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Full text of "Robert Helmont, diary of a recluse, 1870-1871"

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ALPHONSE DAUDET 
From a Water-Colour by L. Rossi 



Robert Helmont 

Diary of a Recluse 

18701871 

With Illustrations by 
Pi card and Montegut 



Authorised Edition 
A II rights resen-ed 



tAlphonse T^audet 

Robert Helmont 

Diary of a Recluse 

1870 1871 




Translated by 

Laura Ensor 



London 
J. M. Dent and Co. 

1896 



Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON &> Co. 
At the Ballantyne Press 



LIST OF PLATES 

PAGH 

" Read that, Mr. Robert, said the good man" . . . 18 
" Seeing me so thoroughly determined, the Keeper pressed 

my hand " . 35 

" Colaquet managed to take us tolerably straight " . .56 
" Old Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling wine " 68 
" They began drinking out of their caps "... 74 

" He lay sprawling at full length on the stone bench " . 79 
" At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit orchard " 113 

The Watch 127 

" It was a balloon :) 140 

" I found a pigeon " . . . . . . . .148 

" We crossed a heavy punt " . . . . . .160 

" I seized hold of the chain with both hands and lowered 

myself into the river " .171 

" They blew out his brains with a revolver " . . .185 
" I heard the clinking of glasses, the uncorking of bottles " 191 
" Forgetful of the lost harvest in preparing for that of 

the future " 199 



2O32594 




PREFACE 

While spending a day in the country on one of 
those pretty green islets that are dotted about in 
clusters on the Seine between Champrosay and Soisy, 
and wrestling with a friend, my foot slipped on the 
damp grass, and I broke my leg. My unfortunate 
love for athletic and violent exercise has already 
played me so many ugly tricks, that I should probably 
have forgotten this accident, as I have others, but for 
its precise and memorable date : the I4th of July 
1870!... I still see myself at the close of that sad 



2 PREFACE. 

day, lying on the sofa in the former studio of Eugene 
Delacroix, whose small house on the borders of the 
forest of Senart we were then occupying. When my 
leg was stretched out, I hardly suffered, for already I 
felt the vague restlessness of increasing fever, exag- 
gerating the sensation and heat of the stormy atmos- 
phere, and enveloping all around me in a misty cloud, 
as it were, of shimmering gauze. To the accompani- 
ment of the piano they were singing the choruses of 
Orphe'e, and no one, not even I, suspected how serious 
was my condition. Through the wide-open bay 
window in the studio came the sweet breath of the 
jasmine and roses, the beat of the night-moths, and 
the quick flashes of lightning showing up, above the 
low garden walls, the sloping vineyards, the Seine, 
and the rising ground opposite. Suddenly the still- 
ness was broken by the sound of a bell ; the evening 
papers are brought in and opened, and voices broken 
by emotion, anger, or enthusiasm exclaim : "War is 
declared ! " 

From this moment nothing remains to me but the 
feverish recollection of a state of languor lasting six 
weeks; of six weeks of bed, of splints, of cradle 
and plaster case, in which my leg seemed imprisoned 
in company with thousands of tormenting insects. 



PREFACE. 



During that hot summer, so exceptionally stormy and 
scorching, this inaction full of agitation was dreadful, 
and my anxiety, increased by the accounts of the 
public disasters which filled the papers that covered 
my bed, added to my restlessness and sleeplessness. 
At night the rumble of the distant trains disturbed 
me like the tread of endless battalions, and by day, 
pale and sad faces, scraps of conversations overheard 
in the road or at the neighbour's, through my open 
window : " The Prussians are at Chalons, mother 
Jean," and the vans at every moment raising clouds 
of dust in the quiet little village, lent a mundane and 
sinister echo to my perusal of " the news of the war." 
Soon we were the only Parisians left at Champrosay, 
left alone with the peasants, obstinately attached to 
the land, and still refusing to admit the idea of an 
invasion. Directly I could leave my couch and be 
moved, our departure was decided. 

Never shall I forget my first outing in the little 
old-fashioned garden, filled with the perfume of ripe 
peaches and fading roses. Around me, poor invalid 
that I was, seated on the steps of a ladder laid 
against the fruited wall, they were hurrying on the 
departure, loading the vans, gathering the fruit and 
flowers in the unconscious preoccupation of leaving 



PREFACE. 



nothing for the enemy ; even the child, with its arms 
full of toys, picking up a little spade forgotten in the 
grass. 

As for me, I inhaled the fresh air with delight ; 
and with an emotion caused by my weak state and 
my returning health, 1 gazed at the grey house, and 
at the red flowers covering the Virginian jessamine 
interwoven round the bay window of the studio. I 
thought of the happy hours, so soft and tranquil, 
spent there the last three years, the hearty laughter, 
the aesthetic discussions so thoroughly in harmony 
with the little home, full of the memories of a great 
artist. Should we ever behold again the sunny path 
so often slowly paced with short and chatty steps, 
the verandah where we sat in the fine June evenings, 
in the brightness of a flowery Spanish broom which, 
ball-shaped, seemed like an enormous lustre lighted 
up in the fading twilight, the richness of its golden 
colour deepening as the light decreased ! 

The family omnibus was filled up and loaded, all 
our cherished ones tightly pressed against each other, 
the child's toys side by side with the parrokeet's 
cage, the bird scared by the sharp-pointed ears of a 
favourite greyhound : we started, passing first through 
the little village with its closed and silent villas. 



PREFACE. 5 



The peasants still held out, although disturbed at the 
departures, watching them from their doorways with 
tears rising in their eyes, and a certain uneasiness 
depicted in the stolid cupidity of their countenances. 
What a return to Paris ! The highway crowded with 
men and beasts, the sheep running loose between 
the wheels, the green of the market-gardeners' carts 
mingling with the piled-up furniture in the vans. 
On the railway embankment, which lay on one side 
of our road, trucks upon trucks extending in inter- 
minable rows, halting and whistling calls, which were 
answered and re-echoed on the distant line. And then 
at last the octroi, where the belated droves of cattle 
and people and vehicles are accumulated before the 
too narrow gateway, and for me a novel sight 
men of the National Guard mixed with the customs 
officers a Parisian militia, full of zeal and good 
nature, whose bayonets shine amidst the crowd and 
in the sunshine on the slopes of the fortifications, 
now heightened by gabions and bristling with guns. 

A few days later I again journeyed to Champrosay, 
but the road no longer presented the same aspect. 
The approach of the enemy, so long threatened and 
now imminent, could be felt by the deserted state 
of the suburbs, and the care displayed by our main- 



PREFACE. 



guards. Endless formalities were required in order 
to pass through. Amongst the loitering peasants 
might be seen the prowling figures of suspicious- 
looking spies, recalling the sinister plunderers of the 
battlefields ; and the solitude, the agonised expecta- 
tion of the districts 1 passed through Villeneuve- 
Saint- Georges, Draveil abandoned and silent, im- 
parted a mystery to the very windings of the road, 
where one almost expected to see the shadow of an 
Uhlan vidette on the watch. Champrosay, with its 
solitary street bordered on each side by villas, seemed 
to grow larger in the death-like stillness : " Vasta 
silentio," as Tacitus says. Glimpses of parks, caught 
sight of through the iron gates, a background of dark 
shrubberies in the distance, flower-beds glowing in 
the brightness of a September day, here and there 
a circle of garden chairs on a terrace, forgotten like 
the idle talk that has melted into thin air, garden 
tools leaning against the palings, all spoke of a rural 
existence hastily interrupted, a precipitate flight, the 
sudden surprise, in the midst of its life, of a small 
Pompe'i, whose last hour has struck. But Nature, 
ever the same, was nevertheless undergoing a change ; 
the broken bridge at Ris, that had been blown up, 
and whose loosened chains dipped into the water, 



PREFACE. 



transformed the landscape, isolating on each side of 
the river the two little districts hitherto united by the 
traffic to and fro over the toll-bridge. From all these 
scenes uprose the agonising sensation of a great 
catastrophe, rendered more striking by the magnificent 
sun of an exceptionally fine season. 

At the same moment, as I closed behind me the 
door of our now deserted dwelling, an aged peasant, 
old Casaquet, came out of a neighbouring house. 
When all the others had taken flight and run away, 
he alone obstinately refused to take refuge in Paris, 
where his family had settled themselves as best they 
could. " I'm much too old ! " he said ; and he had 
some potatoes, a little wine, a few hens, not to speak 
of the grunting porker he kept under his roof. I 
proposed bringing him away to rejoin his people. 
But he stubbornly stuck to his words : " I'm much 
too old ! " 

The recollection of this old Robinson Crusoe, the 
last living being I had seen at Champrosay, often 
crossed my mind during the terrible cold and famine 
of the siege. What had become of him, and of the 
whole village, which I pictured to myself burning and 
blazing ; our house, our books, the piano, everything 
tarnished, broken, and laid waste by the invasion, 



PREFACE. 

like the suburban regions of Nogent, Champigny, 
Petit-Bry, and Courneuve, among whose sad ruins, 
villas with broken stairways and half-hanging shutters, 
I wandered every da}'?... 

But no ! When the war was over, and when, 
towards the end of the Commune. Paris becoming 
untenable, we came and took refuge at Champrosay, 
I had the pleasant surprise of finding almost 
everything in its habitually peaceful condition, with 
the exception of a few country-houses that the 
marauders had searched, and where they had, from 
pure love of destruction, destroyed the wainscoting 
and broken all the windows. The German army had 
passed through, but never made any lengthened stay. 
Hidden behind a clump of acacias, Delacroix's house 
had been even more protected than others, and in the 
garden awakening in beauty to the smile of spring, I 
could breathe freely for the twofold deliverance from 
the siege and from the winter. I was walking along 
the flower borders, when old Casaquet's face peered 
over the garden wall, and he beamed upon me with 
his old wrinkled visage. Over him, too, the invasion 
had passed without leaving a trace. " I didn't suffer 
too much..." he said, twinkling his eyes, and standing 
on a ladder with his elbows resting on the trellis ; 



PREFACE. 



and then he related how he had borne this period 
of exile and solitude. It had been a real time of 




feasting. There were no keepers in the forest, he 
cut as much wood as he liked (a treasure much 



10 PREFACE. 



coveted by the peasant) ; with a few poachers who 
had taken refuge at the Hermitage he snared roedeer 
and pheasants ; and whenever an isolated Prussian, 
an orderly or straggler, was found in the vicinity of 
the quarries, he was quietly and quickly despatched. 
During four months he lived without any other news 
from Paris but the sound of the distant cannonading, 
and the occasional sight of an inflated balloon floating 
beneath the dark sky. 

This quiet, ant-like existence on the surface of the 
earth amidst the overthrow of a world was most 
extraordinary. I too could have lived there like the 
old peasant, reduced to the same expedients of primi- 
tive life ; and this different view of war appeared to 
me an appropriate setting for a melancholy picture 
of the invasion. That very evening I began in the 
large studio taking notes for " Robert Helmont's Diary 
of a Recluse ; " while the passing to and fro under 
my windows of the German cavalry patrols, still 
encamped on the edge of the country, the clashing of 
swords and jingling of curb-chains, the rough Saxon 
voices harshly raised in command, mingled with the 
thunder of the cannons. All this indeed formed part 
of "my diary." My feelings were still more excited 
on the following day by all the sad details of the 



PREFACE. 



military occupation the roads dark with troops, the 
halting and the bivouacking by the side of the ditches. 
To escape from the humiliating sensations of the 
vanquished, I wandered into the woods, lovely in 
this month of April : a tender green clothed the 
branches of the trees, the grass was gemmed with 
the bloom of wild hyacinths, and the warbling of the 
birds and the song of the nightingale were interrupted 
by the distant tearing sound of the mitrailleuse. 
Sometimes, at the turn of a quiet path, I saw coming 
toward me under the arching boughs, a sentimental 
Saxon colonel, slowly pacing on his charger the lanes 
and trysting-places cherished by Louis XV. and 
Madame de Pompadour. Then I plunged into the 
recesses of the deepest thickets, for these encounters 
gave me a revulsion of feeling which I can hardly 
explain. It was thus that I lived the diary of Robert 
Helmont at the same time that I wrote it. 

This little book was published by Dentu in the 
Musee Universe/ of 1 873 ; but it met with little success. 
It told no story, and contained no interesting or con- 
tinued narrative ; it was merely a succession of land- 
scapes, portraying the melancholy of our invaded 
summer haunts. In the new edition of my complete 
works published by Dentu-Charpentier, " Robert Hel- 



12 



PREFACE. 



mont " is placed at the end of the second volume of 
Jack," and it finds there its proper place, describing 
as it does the same forest of Senart, the Hermitage, 
and the Pacome Gate, where I knew the hero of my 
novel "Jack," and recalling to life a few of the same 
characters. 



itu- J 

C^xiS-- . M 





THE HERMITAGE, September yd. 

It is six weeks yesterday since I broke my leg. 
It happened on the very day war was declared. 
While M. de Grammont was exciting so much tumult 
and enthusiasm in the Senate, I myself, on returning 
from net-fishing in the Seine, stumbled over a stake 
hidden in the grass at the edge of the river, and was 
brought home to my Hermitage in the forest of 
Senart in a woodcutter's cart... 

I went out this morning for the first time after fifty 
days of fever and suffering, increased by the news of 



I4 ROBERT HELMONT. 



the war. I had nightmares of distant battles, and 
the sinister despatches from Forbach and Reisch- 
hoffen remain mixed up in my mind with the pain of 
my wound, the heat of the plaster casing, and that 
restless inactivity which is the most cruel of all 
tortures. At last it is over! After having seen 
nothing for so long but the tops of the trees, and 
those great stretches of blue sky of which the mono- 
tony is only broken by passing wings, I felt quite 
happy at putting my feet to the ground and getting 
down my stairs with faltering steps. But how weak 
I was! My head swam round. From having re- 
mained so long in the same position, my leg had 
forgotten its proper balance and functions. It 
seemed no longer part of myself, as if I were no 
longer master of it. However, with slow steps, and 
the extreme nervousness which augments one's weak- 
ness, I was able to get to the poultry-yard and push 
open its little latticed door, half buried in the tall 
grass. Even this gave me a thrill of pleasure! 
During my absence, my neighbour, the keeper's wife, 
has taken good care of all this little family, who 
watch me with an astonished, bright, and familiar 
gaze. The rabbits come tumbling over each other 
to the edge of their hutches, with their ears pricked 



ROBERT HELMONT. 15 



up and quivering. The hens go on with their 
ceaseless pecking in the grass, making sharp sounds 
like those of little pickaxes. The cock, more de- 
monstrative, flaps his large wings with a resounding 
" cock-a-doodle-do.'' 

Presently I returned and seated myself on the old, 
worn, green-coloured stone bench, which, with the 
wall full of gaps and two or three apple-trees 
covered with moss, date from the time when my 
house and the orchards surrounding it were part of 
an old monastery built in the middle of the forest... 
Never had my garden appeared so beautiful to me. 
The fruit-trees against the wall, rather stripped of 
their leaves, were laden with ripe peaches and golden 
bunches. The currant-bushes, spread out in thin 
clumps, were dotted here and there with sparks of 
red ; and under the autumn sun, that ripens each 
berry, bursts each pod, and sheds each grain, the 
sparrows pursued one another with unequal flights, 
while youthful twitterings among them show how their 
numbers have been increased by the young broods. 
From time to time the heavy flight of a pheasant 
passed over the ruined wall, alighting in a field of 
buckwheat. At the top of a tall tree a squirrel was 
playing and cracking nuts. The gentle heat which 



1 6 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



pervaded the whole scene threw a wonderful feeling 
of repose over this liitle rustic corner. I had for- 




gotten the Prussians and the invasion... Suddenly 
the keeper and his wife came in. It was astonishing 
to see old Guillard at the Hermitage in the daytime 




Read that, Mr. Robert, said the good man." Page 19, 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



he, the constant rover of the forest ! I understood 
that there must be fresh news. 

Read that, Mr. Robert... said the good man. 
And drawing from beneath his thick velveteen 

waistcoat a copy of the National, crumpled and awk- 
wardly folded by hands little accustomed to deal with 
papers, he held it out to me with an air of dismay. 
On the first sheet, bordered in black, were the sinister 
words : " The French army has capitulated." I could 
not read any farther... 

...Dazed, with closed eyes, for the space of five 
minutes I seemed to see nothing but those few words, 
surrounded by flashes of light and colour, as if I had 
read them on a white wall in the full glare of the 
sun. Alas ! there was therefore no hope. The last 
barrier had broken down. It was the invasion, the 
mighty one... The keeper thinks that in eight days 
the Prussians will be here. 

Ah, my dear sir, you should see the block on 
the roads. Between this and Paris there is a mob 
of cattle and vehicles. ' Every one is packing up arid 
flying. Champrosay is empty ; Farmer Goudeloup is 
the only person who will not hear of leaving. He 
has sent away his wife and children, loaded his two 
guns, and is ready. 



20 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



And you, Guillard, what do you intend doing ? 

I f s ir? I shall do the same as Goudeloup. 

Our chiefs have forgotten to leave us any orders. 
I shall take advantage of that to remain at my post, 




and watch my woods up to the last moment. When 
the Prussians come, we will barricade ourselves in 
the Hermitage; for I suppose, with your bad leg, 
you will not think of leaving. And then, if we are 
attacked well, we will defend ourselves. You will 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



21 



fire through the windows ; 1 shall guard the Pacome 
Gate, and Mother Guillard will load the guns... Won't 
you, mother ?. . . 




Good fellow ! It warmed my heart to hear him. 
In spite of his sixty years, the Indian, as they call 
him about here, with his high stature, wide shoulders, 



22 ROBERT HELMONT. 



and bright eyes full of mischief and life, is still a 
fine-looking soldier. I thought, as I looked at him, 
that with such a companion there might indeed be 
something to do. By lying in ambush on the out- 
skirts of the forest he knows so thoroughly, we could 
demolish a few passing Prussians. But then the 
sensation of my weakness, of my useless condition, 
suddenly came back to me and overwhelmed me. 

After the keeper and his wife had taken leave of 
me, I remained all alone, seated on my bench, buried 
in thought. What a state of misery is mine ! To 
feel that craving for action and vital energy that 
comes on at the approach of danger, and not to be 
able to take ten steps in my garden. How much 
longer will this last? The doctor says I must expect 
at least two months of it. Two months ! Ah ! how 
dreadful... The air was getting chilly, my leg was 
hurting me. I went in and dined sadly. After 
dinner the keeper came as he has done every 
evening since my accident to smoke a pipe with 
me. He is more than ever determined to remain at 
the Hermitage. While he was telling me all his 
plans and schemes of defence, I heard in the distance, 
through the open window, the usual sounds of twi- 
light ; the wheels creaking in the ruts, the rumbling 



ROBERT HELMONT. 23 



of the train, the rustling of the leaves in the thickets ; 
and at moments another sound, as of all these blended 
together and increasing in volume, seemed to rise 
from the ground, following the course of the river 
and little hills on the horizon, to grow gradually 
louder and louder. It was like the tramp of an army 
on the march, hurrying on in the fading light to find 
their halting-place, while the first rays of moonlight 
fall on the barrels of the guns and the gilded spikes 
of the helmets... 

Suddenly a dull report on a level with the earth 
made us start. Mother Guillard, who was clearing 
away my modest repast, felt the pile of plates she 
was carrying shake in her hands. 

- They have blown up the bridge at Corbeil ! . . . 
said the keeper. 

The pretty country village, where I had so often 
breakfasted before a day's shooting, seemed to be 
sixty miles farther away... For a moment we all 
three looked blankly at each other. At last old 
Guillard rose from his seat, took up his gun and his 
lantern, muttering between his teeth : 

I am going to close the Pacome gate, he said, 
with an heroic gesture. 

Close the Pacome gate ! It seemed easy to say ; and 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



yet I fancy the good fellow will find some difficulty 
in doing it. For the last century the old door of the 
cloister has been ajar ; the forest has taken advantage 
of the aperture to slip through, and the indiscreet 
brambles have climbed in by all the cracks of its 
disjointed planks. If we have to undergo a siege, 1 
do not rely much on that gate. 





September $th. 

...Long had I sought a solitary corner, not too far 
away from Paris, and yet not much frequented by Pari- 
sians. One day, while crossing the forest of Senart, 
I discovered the Hermitage, and for the last ten years 
I have spent all my summers there. It was a monas- 
tery of " Cordeliers," burnt down in '93. The four 
principal walls remain standing, but mouldering and 



26 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



crumbling at intervals, making on the turf, heaps of 
red stone quickly re-clothed by a rich and luxuriant 




vegetation : poppies, barley, stiff-growing plants with 
regular and pointed leaves, are divided by the stones 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



like inlaid metal-work. One gateway looks on the 
road ; the other, that famous Pacome gate, opens on 




to the wooded thickets and the little hidden paths, 
full of balsam and wild mint, where, on a misty 



28 ROBERT HELMONT. 

morning, I have often fancied I saw disappear, the 
hood of some old monk gathering wild herbs. Here 
and there along the wall, low postern gates, disused 
for many a century, send through the darkness of 
the forest long rays of light, as if the cloister con- 
tained all the sunlight of the woods. 

Inside is waste land, with burnt-up grass, little 
gardens belonging to the peasants, some orchards 
divided by trellis-work, and two or three houses 
built of that red stone that is found in the quarries 
of the wood. 

The forester lives in one of these houses, the other 
is never let. Mine, a kind of irregular and curious 
turret, is chiefly remarkable for the Virginian creeper 
that completely covers it. I have cut away just 
enough of it to be able to open my windows. Leav- 
ing untouched the great worm-eaten beams in the 
kitchen and the worn step on the threshold, I con- 
tented myself with heightening a hayloft under the 
roof, replacing the walls by glass, and thus making 
a beautiful studio, where my only neighbours are the 
nests of the wood- pigeon and magpie swaying to and 
fro on the top of the trees. 

When I am there, the forest surrounds me like an 



ROBERT HELMONT. 29 



ocean, with the swell of the foliage, the ebb and flow 
of the breezes, the murmuring softness of a calm. 
On a summer's afternoon, at the hour of silent and 
slumbering heat, a bumble-bee comes by regularly, 
dashes against my half-open window-pane, whose 
brightness attracts him, then like a rebounding ball 
goes off, shaking the golden dust from his big 
wings, and disappears amongst the honey-scented 
bushes of privet. This bee is my clock. When he 
passes by I say : " Ah, it is two o'clock." And I 
am right.. . 

It is, in fact, a wonderful nook for work, and 
where my best pictures have been painted. And 
how I love it, this old Hermitage ! For the last ten 
years I have been adorning it to the best of my 
ability. I have brought there what I call my trea- 
sures my books, my sketches, my etchings, and 
some old armour... And now I should have to leave 
all this, abandon my home, to these robbers. And 
what for? To go and shut myself up in Paris... 
But as I cannot walk, of what use should I be to 
them there ? They have too many useless mouths to 
feed already... 

Well, no ! Decidedly the fellow is right. We 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



must not go away from here... Pro aris ct 
focis ! ... 

Not being able to defend my country, the least I 
can do is to defend my hearth. 





September 6th. 

This morning the keeper came into my room. He 
wore his full-dress uniform, as on the I5th of August : 
green tunic, peaked cap, cross-belt, hunting-knife, 
and he had an air of importance befitting the solem- 
nity of his appearance. 

There is bad news, he said, taking up a posi- 
tion by the side of my bed... All the wood-rangers 
are recalled to Paris in order to be enrolled with the 
customs officers. We are starting almost immediately. 



32 ROBERT HELMONT. 



Honest old Guillard ! He appeared somewhat 
agitated while talking to me, and I was myself rather 
disturbed by the sudden announcement of this de- 
parture. I hurriedly dressed, and we went down- 
stairs. On the road below was the head-keeper, with 
about twenty foresters and keepers the whole of the 
staff on duty in the forest. Then came the women, 
children, and pointers, and two large carts laden with 
furniture, rabbit-hutches, and chickens tied up by the 
legs. The door of the house was wide open, and 
Mother Guillard moved to and fro inside, seeking 
what she must leave or take, as the conveyances 
were full, and the first-comers had taken up all the 
available space. The perplexity of the poor house- 
wife was a sight to see, as she ran from one piece 
of furniture to another, dragging a heavy cupboard 
to the door, then leaving it there, forgetting the most 
useful things, but lading herself with those of no 
value, except that they were souvenirs : the old clock 
with its glass shade, some marvellous portraits, a 
hunting-horn, a distaff, all of them covered with dust 
that excellent dust that clings to family relics, and 
of which each particle speaks of youth and the happy 
days gone by. 

I trust you are not going to remain here, Mr. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 33 

Robert, the good woman called out as she crossed 
the orchard... You shall be put on a cart. 

And in order to convince me more thoroughly : 

In the first place, if you remain here, who 
will cook for you ? 

In reality the good creatures were rather ashamed 
of leaving me behind. Their departure, although 
involuntary, seemed to them somewhat of a betrayal 
on their part. I tried to reassure them on my 
account, and to reassure myself at the same time. 
After all, who knows ? The Prussians may not come 
so far. Moreover, the Hermitage is in the heart of 
the forest, and out of the line of march. There was 
therefore not the slightest danger to be apprehended. 
At most a few days of solitude, and that did not 
alarm me. 

Seeing me so thoroughly determined, the keeper 
pressed my hand. 

Good luck, Mr. Robert... My wife will leave 
you our keys. You will find wine and potatoes in 
the cellar. Take what you choose. We will settle 
on our return home... And now, good mother, let us 
start ; and above all, you know what I said to you ; 
try not to cry. 

She, however, nearly broke down. On turning the 



34 



ROBERT HELMONT 



key for the last time in the lock, her hand shook. She 
compressed her lips... At that moment a formidable 
hee-haw ! echoed through the Hermitage. The keeper 
and his wife looked at each other in consternation. 
It is Colaquet !... What is to become of him ? 
The unfortunate Colaquet, whom they had for- 
gotten in the hurry 
of departure, was their 
donkey, a pretty little 
grey donkey, with a 
bright and artless look. 
A few days before, it 
had been bitten on the 
muzzle by a viper, and 
it had been turned out 
to graze in a little field 
of after - grass ; and 
there he was, looking 

at his masters going away, leaning his swollen head, 
which gave him the appearance of one of the beasts 
of the Apocalypse, over the hedge. 

How could they take him ? He would die on the 
road, and yet the veterinary surgeon had promised 
to cure him. The fate of the poor animal, rather 
resembling my own, touched my heart. 





" Seeing me so thoroughly determined, the keeper pressed 
my hand." Page 33. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



37 



I promised to take care of Colaquet, and to put 
him into the stable every night. The good people 
thanked me, and we parted. 

A sad parting ! The 
carts, heavy and over- 
loaded, slowly followed the 
wide forest road, grinding 
on the pebbles as they 
went along. The children 
were running on each side, 
excited by the unexpected 
journey. The men, in 
single file, skirted the edge 
of the wood, their guns on 
their shoulders, all of them 
old soldiers, well trained 
and disciplined. Behind 
them the dogs followed, 
hanging their heads un- 
easily, hardly straying even 
to listen to the flight of a 

hen -pheasant, or to sniff the trace of a rabbit. 
Domestic animals do not like changing their quarters, 
and these were following in the track of the carts, 
now become their wandering homes. Mother Guillard 




ROBERT HELMONT. 



came last, holding in her hand her magpie's large 
cage, and from time to time looking back. 

Seated on the curbstone near the principal en- 
trance, I watched them till the whole party disap- 
peared from my sight in the narrowing perspective of 
the road. 1 saw the last glance on the gun- barrels, 
I heard the grinding of the last wheel, and the dust 
of the highway swallowed them up in a cloud... 

It was all over. I was alone. This thought has 
given me an unaccountable sensation of uneasiness. 








September *jth, 8t/t, and qth. 

This new kind of life would not be without its 
charm, were it not disturbed by a sensation of 
anxiety, of uneasiness, of constant expectation, sus- 
pending all thought, and rendering all artistic work 
an impossibility. I can only undertake those trivial 



40 ROBERT HELMONT. 



occupations, those necessary details of everyday life, 
of which I have always had such a horror, and to 
which I must resign myself now that I am my own 
servant. Shall I confess it ? These trifles do not 
really weary me very much, and I understand recluses 
amusing themselves by carving roots or weaving 
baskets. Manual labour is a good means of regulat- 
ing life for those who have too much leisure and 
liberty. Therefore every morning I begin by paying 
a visit to the poultry-yard, and when I feel the 
warmth of an egg in the straw, I am happy. Then, 
walking slowly, and leaning on a stick, I go round 
the garden, picking the ripe fruit ; and from the long, 
dry, sunburnt stalks I gather the beans, whose pods 
burst open and shed their contents through my 
fingers. It is laughable to see me seated in front 
of my door, cutting up the bread for my soup, or 
washing my salad in a bucket. All these things 
give me rather a childish comfort ; but is not conva- 
lescence itself like childhood ? a fresh beginning of 
life. 

In order to avoid going up and down the broken 
and irregular steps of the staircase, I have placed my 
bed in the large room on the ground floor, which 
therefore answers the purpose of drawing-room, bed- 



ROBERT HELMONT. 41 



room, and kitchen. In this very mild weather, the 
door leading into the garden remains wide open all 
day. I hear the noise of the hens, always busy and 
cackling, their little claws pattering on the sand and 
scratching up the straw. Next door, in the keeper's 
small field, I see poor Colaquet stretched out, shaking 
off the flies, and, with the idleness of an invalid, 
lolling out his tongue in front of him on the meadow, 
all purple with the thousand clusters of lucern. When 
evening comes on, with some difficulty he approaches 
the fence that divides us. I also drag myself there. 
I bathe his wound, renew the water, throw a rug 
over his back for the night, and he thanks me by 
shaking his long ears. 

What really distresses me in my present state of 
suffering is having to fetch water from the old con- 
vent well, just at the end of the enclosure. 

When I reach it, I am obliged to sit down for a 
moment on the edge of the cracked stonework, over- 
grown by rank weeds. The ornamental wrought 
ironwork, of an elegant and ancient style, appears, 
under the rust that tarnishes it, like climbing tendrils 
laid bare by the autumn. This melancholy is in 
complete harmony with the deep silence of the 
Hermitage, and the atmosphere of loneliness that 



4 2 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



surrounds me... The bucket is heavy. On returning 
I stop two or three times. Over there, at the far end, 
there is an old door that the wind keeps slamming. 
The noise of my footsteps echoes, and troubles me... 
Oh, solitude !... 





September \oth. 

...1 had just finished breakfasting on the lawn 
on my word, an excellent breakfast too ! fresh eggs, 
and grapes gathered from my beautiful purple vine. 
I was sitting there, idly dreaming, basking in the 
light, warmth, and silence, very busy looking at the 
smoke of my pipe and at my painted plates, on 
which a stray wasp was furiously attacking the 
emptied stalks. Around me on that clear autumn 
day, under a deep and pure blue sky, even more 
beautiful than the summer skies so often veiled and 



44 ROBERT HELMONT. 

dimmed by hot mists, I felt the same hush of Nature, 
the same all-pervading sense of peace... When sud- 
denly a formidable explosion in my immediate vicinity 
shook the house, rattled the windows, and stirred the 
leaves, sending forth on all sides the sound of wild 
flutterings, screams, alarms, and galloping... This 
time it was not the bridge at Corbeil that was blown 
up, but our own, our little bridge at Champrosay. 
It meant: " The .Prussians are here!" Immediately 
my heart stood still, and a veil seemed to pass over 
the sunlight. Then the thought crossed my mind 
that to-morrow, this evening maybe, the forest roads 
would be invaded, darkened by these wretches ; that 
I should be compelled to bury myself alive, and 
never stir out again. And I longed to see once more 
my beloved forest, of which 1 had been deprived for 
the last two months. 

The lanes .in the woods were lovely, widened by 
freedom from the long summer weeds, and showing 
at the top, through the young branches, a long ray 
of light. At the cross-roads, bathed in sunlight, the 
faded pink heather was flowering in tufts ; and in the 
thickets, among the black stems, like a small forest 
beneath a large one, the ferns displayed their micro- 
scopic trees with their peculiar foliage. What a 



ROBERT HELMONT. 45 



silence ! Generally a thousand vague sounds greeted 
me from afar : the trains passing by and marking the 
distant horizon, the digging of the quarrymen, the 
cart-wheels slowly turning in the ruts, the strident 
call-whistle of the gang. And to-day, not a sound 
not even that perpetual murmur which seems like the 
breathing of a slumbering forest that stir of the 
leaves, that humming of the insects, that pretty 
"frrrt!" like the unfolding of a fan, made by birds 
among the foliage. It seemed as if the loud report 
just now had stupefied all Nature. 

Slightly weary, I had seated myself under a thick 
oak-tree, when I heard a rustling in the branches. 
At last!... I expected to see a hare or a roedeer 
scamper across the path ; but through the parted 
bushes, about ten paces from me on the road, jumped 
a big fellow, dressed all in black, with his gun on his 
shoulder, a revolver in his belt, and his head covered 
by a large Tyrolese hat. I was startled. I thought 
it was some Bavarian or Saxon rifleman. It was, 
however, a Parisian franc-tireur. At that time there 
were some twenty of them in the forest, retreating 
day by day before the Prussians, lying in ambush to 
watch their line of march, and to knock over from 
time to time an Uhlan of the advance-guard. While 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



the man was talking to me, his comrades, coming out 
of the coppice, joined us. They were nearly all old 
soldiers, working-men from the faubourgs of Paris. 
I took them back to the Hermitage, and made them 
drink a few bottles of wine. They told me the 




Prince of Saxony's division had reached Montereau, 
one stage distant from here. I learnt also from them 
about the defensive operations begun round Paris 
the organisation of the troops ; and to hear them 
speak with such calm, such confidence, and especially 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



47 



hearing their Parisian accent, warmed my heart. Ah, 
brave fellows ! if I could only have gone off with 




them, stuck on my head their ridiculous headgear, 
and fought in their ranks, under the walls of the 
good city!... But, alas! to have walked merely 



4 8 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



twenty steps in the woods had swollen my leg, and 
I was in pain. Ah, well ! I was grieved when they 
left me. They are probably the last Frenchmen that 
I shall see for some time... 

They left at dusk, cheered by my sour wine. I 
gave them a hen,... they carried off four. .. 








No news. 



September i\th. 



September 12 th. 



Still no news. What can be going on ? Are 
they forced to retire ? Really, this suspense is 
unbearable. 

September i^th. 

I have only bread enough for two days. I found 
this out in the morning, on opening the chest where 
Mother Guillard placed my week's provisions six large 



50 ROBERT HELMONT. 



floury and golden loaves, that she baked for me every 
Sunday. What shall I do ? I have, it is true, an 
oven and a kneading-trough, but not an atom of flour. 
Perhaps I should find some at the farm at Champ- 
rosay, if Goudeloup has remained there as he in- 
tended. But how can I get so far in my present 
weak condition ? Seated on my garden bench in 
front of my door, I was absorbed in these melancholy 
thoughts, when I heard the sound of an animal 
galloping in the keeper's field. It was Colaquet. 
Colaquet, generally so lazy, was gambolling round 
the orchard, kicking up little tufts of grass with his 
hoofs and rolling over on his back, with a feeling of 
satisfaction and pleasure in living. In two bounds 
he came at my call, and leant his head, no longer 
swollen, but now of normal size, on the wooden 
trellis ; the rapid motion of his long ears, whose 
language I am beginning to understand, telling me 
of his happiness at being free and delivered from his 
pain and infirmity. Lucky Colaquet ! he is cured 
before I am ; and while I looked at him with an 
envious eye, I remembered that there over there, 
under the shed was an old conveyance that Guillard 
formerly used on fete-days to drive parties of Pari- 
sians through the forest. If I harnessed Colaquet, 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



we might go and fetch some flour... So I set to 
work rummaging under the shed. Amongst the rusty 
pickaxes, hay-rakes, and dilapidated harrows I finally 
discovered a worm-eaten spring-cart, forgotten and 
unused, its two shafts lying on the ground. By 
means of some pieces of rope and a few nails I put 
it into a tolerable state of repair. It occupied me till 
the evening ; but what an interesting piece of work ! 
I was amused in turning over those old nails, those 
worn-out pegs. Once or twice I surprised myself by 
whistling over my work. Pretty cool, considering I 
was expecting the Prussians... Now everything is 
ready, the cart and the team. To-morrow morning, 
if in the meanwhile nothing happens, we shall start 
for Champrosay ! 





September 147/2. 

I have made a compact with myself to keep a very 
exact diary of the strange and terrible life I have 
been drawn into ; if I have many days as exciting 
and tragic as this, I shall never be able to live through 
them. My hand shakes, my brain is on fire. How- 
ever, I must make the attempt... 

At first starting all went well.' The weather was 
beautiful. I had placed a bundle of hay in the cart, 



56 ROBERT HELMONT. 



and although Colaquet's eyelids were still swollen 
from the bite, he managed to take us tolerably straight 
he had so often made this journey, carrying bundles 
of linen to the riverside. In spite of the slight jolt- 
ing, I found the drive delightful. Not the point of 
a helmet nor the glitter of a gun-barrel to be seen. 
Only, on arriving at Champrosay, the deep silence 
that had so impressed me in the woods appeared still 
more striking. The peasants' cottages hardly seemed 
to me the same : no pigeons on the roofs, the doors 
closed, and the courtyards deserted. The silent belfry 
of the little church, with its defaced dial, stood above 
like a faithful guardian. Farther on, all the villas 
along the road, their grounds extending to the forest, 
were also carefully shut up. Their summer wealth 
of flowers continued to bloom, and, under the shade 
of the clipped trees, the yellow sandy paths were but 
lightly strewn with a few dead leaves. Nothing could 
give a more vivid idea of sudden departure and flight 
than the sight of these deserted houses, decked out 
as usual behind their high iron gates. There seemed 
still a kind of quiver and warmth of life ; and at 
times, at the turn of the path, visions rose up in 
my mind of straw hats, upraised parasols, and of 




*t .. . . 
Colaquet managed to take us tolerably straight." Page 56. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 57 

goats tethered on the grass-plots in their accustomed 
place. 

What, however, really seemed deathlike was the 
road, the highroad to Corbeil, that I had left so full 
of life, with a continual flow of vans, mail-coaches, 
market-gardeners' carts, perambulating poultry-yards 
full of cackle and prattle ; carriages borne along 
through the whirlwind of their own speed, on which 
float, even in the calmest weather, the veils and rib- 
bons of the occupants ; and the tall waggons laden 
with fresh hay and scythes and pitchforks, casting 
long shadows across the road. And now nothing and 
no one. In the filled-up ruts the dust has the still 
look of fallen snow, and the two wheels of my spring- 
cart glide on noiselessly. At the end of the village 
the farm appears in the distance, closed, and silent 
from the foot of its walls to the highest tile of its tall 
dark roof. Has Goudeloup also taken flight?... 
Here I am before the gateway. I knock I call. A 
window above the dairy opens cautiously, and I see 
the cunning, somewhat unkempt head of the farmer 
appear, with his untrimmed beard, and his small 
round, suspicious eyes hidden under bushy eye- 
brows. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



All! it is you, Mr. Robert... Wait a moment. 
I am coming down. 




Together we enter the little, low room where the 
carters, harvesters, and threshers usually come in the 



ROBERT IIELMONT. 



59 



evening to receive their day's pay. In a corner I 
perceive two loaded guns. 

- You see, says Goudeloup, I am ready for 
them... If they leave me alone, I shall not stir... 
But if they are imprudent enough to meddle with the 
farm... Let them beware! 




We were talking in low tones, as if in an enemy's 
country. He let me have a few loaves and a sack 
of flour; then having loaded my cart, we parted, 
promising each other soon to meet again ,, Poor 



60 ROBERT HELMONT. 



Before returning home, no traces of Prussians 
being visible, I was tempted to go down the lane 
which passes under the walls of the farm and leads 
to the Seine. It was the whim of an artist. A 
river is the soul of a landscape. Animating the 
scene with its ceaseless movement, it gives life to 
all the changes of the day, and imparts grandeur 
to Nature by the reflection of its mirrored banks, 
and of glowing sunsets sinking into tranquil depths 
of liquid fire. Now its water faithfully reflects the 
surrounding melancholy. The shattered bridge, the 
crumbling piers piled up on either side in white 
heaps of stone, the iron chains dangling in the 
river, all this seems like a great rent in the land- 
scape, the cruel work of the invader. No boats, no 
rafts the river has returned to its wild, natural 
state, its surface furrowed by unfettered currents 
and swirling pools eddying round the ruins of 
the broken bridge, and bearing on its way nothing 
but drifting tufts of grass and roots, on which the 
water-wagtail, wearied out with its long flight, aban- 
dons itself to the course of the stream. On the 
slopes of each bank the corn and vines still stand, 
-and the newly-mown fields are yet overshadowed by 



ROBERT IIELMONT. 6l 



the high haycocks ; a whole harvest lost and left to 
its fate... 

I had stood there for a moment looking at this 
scene of disaster, when I heard two shots, followed 
by shrieks and groans, which seemed to come from 
the direction of the farm. 1 hastened to see what 
was the matter, and as I approached the cries of 
" Help Help " were redoubled. I recognised the 
voice of the farmer amongst others raised in anger, 
a hideous jargon of sound. I whip up Colaquet, but 
the hill is steep and Colaquet moves not. One would 
almost say he was afraid. He lays back his ears and 
runs up against the wall ; besides this, the road takes 
a turn, and I cannot see what is taking place on the 
highroad above. Suddenly, through a breach in the 
wall that the fall of the neighbouring bridge has made, 
as if expressly for me, the whole interior of the farm 
comes into view : the yard, the sheds, men, horses, 
helmets, long lances, flour sacks burst open, an 
unhorsed cavalry soldier lying before the well at 
full length in a pool of blood, and the unfortunate 
Goudeloup, pale, scared, a hideous object, howling 
and struggling between two gigantic Uhlans, who 
have tied a rope round his neck, and are about to 



62 ROBERT HELMONT. 

swing him up by the pulley outside his hayloft. It 
is impossible to describe my sensations. I am filled 
with feelings of indignation, pity, horror, and anger. . 
I forget that I am wounded and unarmed. I prepare 
to spring over the breach and throw myself on these 
wretches... But my foot slips... I hear something 
like the snap of a stick in my leg, followed by horrible 
pain. Everything goes round with me, the yard, the 
sheds, the pulley... 

. . . When I recovered consciousness, I was lying 
stretched on the hay in my cart before the gate of 
the Hermitage. The sun was setting and the wood 
was still. Colaquet was quietly nibbling the grass 
from out of the cracks in the wall. How had I got 
home ? How had I been able to avoid the Uhlans, 
who swarmed on the highway. Perhaps Colaquet 
had the idea of coming across country and reaching 
the forest by the quarry road?... And, in truth, the 
good creature proudly tossed his head and moved 
his ears, as if to say, " I have saved you from a 
dangerous pass ! "... I was in great pain, and it really 
required some courage to step out of the cart, unhar- 
ness the donkey, and go into the house. I thought 
I had for the second time broken my leg. However, 



ROBERT II ELMO NT. 



after an hour's rest, I was able to rise, take a little 
food, and write these few pages. The pain is already 




less sharp, and nothing remains but a great weari- 
ness... Nevertheless, I do not think I shall sleep 



6 4 



ROBERT HELM ON T. 



much to-night. I know they are prowling around 
me, that they are still there, and I have seen them 
at work.. Oh! that unfortunate peasant, murdered 
in his farmyard, dragging himself, clutching at the 
walls!... 





September 2oth. 

From the four corners of the horizon, in the 
murmur of the distant road, which the passing wind 
quickly snatches up and bears to my ears, there is a 
ceaseless and confused rumbling, a noise as of the 
heavy and monotonous sound of waves, which, enve- 
loping the whole forest, slowly flows on towards 
Paris, to die away at the point where the wide roads 
are lost in the immense encompassing zone. Till 
now the inundating masses have spared me, and here 



66 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



I remain cowering in the Hermitage, listening to the 
advancing tide, like a shipwrecked man on a rock 
surrounded by the sea. 

Luckily for me, if the country is invaded, it is not 
yet regularly occupied by the troops. They pass 
through and do not make any stay. Nevertheless, 




two or three times I have heard at night the cavalry 
patrols skirt the walls of the Hermitage. Often, 
when the shooting season was near, the forest rangers 
would thus pass by, pausing for an instant under 
the gateway to call out a loud " Good-night " to the 
keeper's little home. The dogs would bark and sniff 




' Old Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling wine." Page 69. 



ROBERT IIELMONT. 69 

at the kennel railings, then a door opened, and old 
Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling wine, 
in which a ray of moonlight danced, and without dis- 
mounting they drank it down. How different from 
these ghostly patrols, whose very approach makes my 
heart beat ! They pass by in silence. Only from time 
to time the clink of a sword, the neigh of a horse, 
a few low-spoken words in a harsh and barbarous 
language, jar on the stillness of the air. This effec- 
tually drives away sleep for the rest of the night. 

In the daytime the clear, shrill notes of the bugles 
come in gusts to the little garden, with the beating of 
dull and discordant drums, marking the tune in a 
jerky, singular rhythm, which seems to accompany a 
cannibal's war-dance. It is to the sound of these 
barbarous drums that all the northern races, the 
Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, are advancing over our 
magnificent roads of the I le-de- France, the glorious 
autumn weather dazzling them by the unaccustomed 
brilliancy of its sun and sky. During this time I live as 
unobtrusively as possible. I no longer light my fire, 
in order to avoid the smoke which gives light and life 
to the roof. I do not even go out into the orchard. 
I am sure that already the grass is growing across 
my threshold, and that the invading forest is hemming 



70 ROBERT HELMONT. 

me closely in. Lastly, by way of precaution, I have 
killed my cock. That was a cruel sacrifice. I like 
that abrupt awakening at dawn, that call to life and 
work, which the cock gives forth to the surrounding 
country, drawing himself up for the battle with a 
great flapping of wings. But the Prussians might 
have heard him... Now I have only three or four 
quiet and silent hens in my poultry-yard, and a few 
rabbits, who are not likely to betray me. 





September 2 isf, 22d, and 23^. 

I am writing this at night, by the glimmer of a 
small turf-fire a sort of brazier burning on the flags 
in a corner of the room. I have neither oil nor 
candles. It is raining. On all sides of the Her- 
mitage I hear the water streaming over miles of 
foliage. The wind blows. My revolver and a gun 
loaded with buckshot are ready by my side, and I 
await the return of the ruffians, for they have alread}' 
been here. 

Their first visit took place three days ago, in the 
afternoon of the 2ist. The sound of heavy steps on 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



the pavement of the cloister made me peep out of my 
attic window, and I saw five or six hulking fellows 
in forage-caps, with ruddy faces and low, brutal 
countenances, like those of Goudeloup's murderers. 
They spoke in hushed voices, timidly advancing, like 
cowardly plunderers. If 1 had been able to fire at 
them, I should have put 
them to flight ; but once 
the alarm given, they would 
return in greater numbers. 
I waited. Owing to the 
neglected look of the house, 
and thanks to the vines 
and ivy, that gave it the 
aspect of a ruin, the ruffians 
have passed by without 
stopping. And yet the last 
of them bent down for a 
Standing behind my door, 
revolver in hand, I heard his breathing while I held 
my own breath. Perhaps he had caught sight of the 
glimmer of the dying cinders of my fire. However 
that may be, the wretch did not go away, and began 
to rummage in my keyhole with his bayonet. Fortu- 
nately his comrades called out to him : 







moment to the keyhole. 




They began drinking out of their caps." Page 75. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 75 

Hartmann. . . Hartmann.. . 

He went off to rejoin them, and I was able to look 
into the enclosure through the attic window. 

They had just broken open the door of the keeper's 
house. Poor mother Guillard ! it was indeed lost 
trouble to have given me her key. Soon after, 
shouts of joy told me that they had discovered the 
cellar. They brought out a barrel of wine into the 
orchard, so as to drink it more at their ease, and 
hoisted it on to a wide stone bench. Having staved 
in the barrel, they began drinking out of their caps 
and hands, shouting and jostling each other. The 
bent heads disappeared in the cask, and came out 
smeared with dregs, while others greedily took their 
place. The thin new wine, made of small, sour black 
grapes, soon intoxicated all these beer-drinkers. 
Some of them sang and danced round the barrel, 
while the others re-entered the keeper's house, and 
as they found nothing tempting there to satisfy their 
craving for pillage, they threw the furniture out of 
the window, and set fire to a walnut cupboard, whose 
dry and time-worn shelves blazed up like a bundle 
of straw. At last they went off, reeling through the 
driving rain. In front of the gateway there was a 
quarrel. I saw the flash of bayonets, a man fall 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



heavily into the mud and rise up again covered with 
blood, his uniform all stained with the yellow-coloured 
soil of the quarries. And to think that France is at 
the mercy of these brutes !... 

The next day the same party returned. 1 under- 
stood by that, they had not mentioned their windfall, 
and I was a little reassured. However, I am a com- 
plete prisoner. I dare not stir from the principal 
room. Near at hand, in a little wood-shed, I have 
fastened up Colaquet, whose galloping might have 
betrayed me. The poor animal patiently bears his 
captivity, sleeps part of the day, and at times gives 
himself a good shake, surprised at the loss of his 
freedom... At dusk the Prussians depart, more in- 
toxicated than on the evening before. 

To-day I have seen no one. But the cask is not 
yet empty, and I expect them again. 



.": 

. i-W /_ 

~~ :* 








September 24///. 

...This morning a furious cannonading is taking 
place. They are fighting before Paris. The siege 
is begun. It has given me a feeling of pain and 
anger impossible to describe. They are firing on 
Paris, the wretches ! It is the intellect- of the whole 
world that they attack. Oh, why am I not there 
with the others ?.., 

Instantaneously all yesterday's apprehensions have 
vanished. I became ashamed of my mole-like exist- 
ence. For the last week I have drunk nothing but 
the water from the cistern, but now, I hardly know 
wherefore, I went out on purpose to fill my jug at 
the cloister well, and it seemed to do me good to run 
some kind of risk. I looked into the Guillards' house 



7 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



as I passed by, and my anger increased at the sight of 
this humble home ruthlessly pillaged, the furniture 
destroyed and burnt, the window-panes broken. I 

could not help 
thinking of the 
fate of Paris if 
they enter it... 

I had just 
closed my door 
when I heard 
footsteps in the 
enclosure. It 
was one of those 
rascals who came 
the other day, 
the identical one 
who had so long 
rummaged at 
my lock. He 
looked if there 
was any wine 
left in the cask, 
and then, having filled his flask, began drinking, 
sprawling at full length on the stone bench, his 
head resting on his hands. He sang while 





" He lay sprawling at full length on the stone bench." Page 78. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 8l 

drinking ; his young fresh voice rang through the 
cloister with a song about the month of May, in 
which the words Mein lieb, lieb Mai were con- 
stantly repeated. He was just opposite my attic 
window, within easy reach of my revolver. I looked 
at him for a long time, asking myself if I should 
kill him. In the direction of Paris the cannon still 
thundered, filling my heart with terrible anguish... 
After all, perhaps by killing this fellow I should be 
saving some of my own people now fighting on the 
ramparts... 

I do not know whether my unseen glance and the 
intense hatred I was feeling towards him, did not at 
last disturb him and put him on his guard; but all 
of a sudden he raised his head, a head covered with 
thick bristling hair, the eyes of an albino, and red 
moustaches, showing a grinning set of cruel-looking 
teeth. For one moment he threw a suspicious glance 
around him, and having rebuckled his belt and re- 
filled his flask, he went off. As he passed in front 
of my window, I had my finger on the trigger. Well, 
no; I could not do it. To kill for the sake of killing, 
with such certainty, and so little personal danger, 
was beyond me. It is not such an easy thing as one 
fancies, to take a fellow-creature's life in cold blood. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



Once outside the precincts of the Hermitage, and 
having shaken off his undefined sensation of fear, the 
rascal again took up his song, and I heard him get- 
ting farther and farther away, giving forth to the 
forest his " Mcin lieb, licb Mai..." 

Sing away, sing away, my lad ! you have had a 
narrow escape of never seeing again your sweet month 
of May... 





October. . . 

What day, what date can it be ? I have com- 
pletely lost count. My brain is all confused. Yet 
it seems to me that it must be October. The mono- 
tonous days get shorter and shorter, the wind colder, 
and the foliage of the large trees around me becomes 
thinner at each gust of wind. The sound of incessant 
cannonading in the direction of Paris, makes a lugu- 
brious accompaniment to my everyday life, a deep, 
low bass, always mingling in my thoughts. I think 



84 ROBERT HELMONT. 



the Prussians must have their hands full over there, 
for my marauders have not reappeared. I no longer 
even hear the long, slow rumbling of the ammunition 
waggons, nor the rolling of drums, which used to 
resound on the roads outside the forest. So I have 
again lighted the fire in the large room, and I walk 
openly about in the orchard. 

From day to day the difficulties of life increase. 
I have nothing left, neither bread, wine, nor lamp- 
oil. A month ago, with the sunshine, the house well 
aired, and the comfort of warmth, these privations 
were bearable, but now they seem very hard. In the 
poultry-yard there are only two hens left ; always 
hiding under the rafters to escape the continual driv- 
ing rain. I make faggots with the branches of the 
fruit-trees, which, brittle and no longer protected by 
their leaves, snap off and fall to the ground. The 
apple-trees have golden moss, the plum-trees long 
streaks of light-coloured gum under their resinous 
bark, and they make large, bright fires, throwing a 
sunshine into their warmth. I have also gathered 
the last apples, all reddened by the breath of the first 
frost, and I have made a poor kind of cider, which I 
drink instead of wine. With my bread I have been 



ROBERT HELMONT. 85 



less successful. I tried, with the unfortunate Goude- 
loup's flour, to knead some dough in the bottom of a 
cupboard drawer which I used as a trough ; and then, 
under the ashes on the bricks, I made as well as I 
could, thick cakes, of which the outsides were burnt, 
and the insides hardly done enough. They reminded 
me of those little round bits of dough that, as a child, 
I held in the tongs, and made into rolls about the size 
of a lozenge. 

From time to time I get a windfall. For instance, 
the other day, as I was rummaging in the keeper's 
house, I found on a damp and mouldy cupboard shelf 
a few bottles of walnut-spirit that had been over- 
looked by the plunderers ; and another time I found 
a large sack, which I opened with a beating heart, 
thinking it contained potatoes. I was quite startled 
on pulling out from it magpies' beaks, vipers' heads, 
dry and dust-coloured, squirrels' tails, with their 
bushy red fur, and field-mice's tails, as delicate as 
silken twist. These are the keeper's perquisites, as 
they are given so much for the head and tail of de- 
structive animals. They therefore keep these trophies 
of the chase very carefully, as they are paid for them 
by Government once a month. 



86 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



It always buys tobacco, as good old Guillard 

used to say. 

I must confess that at this moment I would will- 
ingly have given up 
all these old bones 
in exchange for a few 
rolls of tobacco. I 
have only enough to 
last me two or three 
days, and that is really 
the only privation I 
dread. To me the 
forest is an inexhaus- 
tible larder. When 
my poultry -yard is 
empty, I shall be able 
to snare some of those 
fine cock - pheasants 
that come round the 
Hermitage to pick up 
~: the grains of buck- 

wheat hidden in the 

wet soil. But tobacco ! tobacco!... 

I read a little, and have even tried to paint. It 




ROBERT HELMONT. 



was a few mornings ago, in the light of a beautiful 
red sun, shining through the air thick with mist ; 
under the shed was a heap of apples, tempting me by 
their lovely colouring of all shades, from the tender 
green of young leaves to the ardent glow of autumnal 




foliage. But I was not able to work for long. In 
a few minutes the sky became overcast. It was rain- 
ing in torrents. And large flocks of wild geese, with 
outstretched necks and beating against the wind, 



88 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



passed over the house, announcing a hard winter and 
the approach of snow by the white down shaken from 
their wings. 






The same month... 

To-day I made a long expedition to Champrosay. 
Reassured by the stillness around me, I harnessed 
Colaquet in good time, and we started. Failing the 
sight of a human face, I longed to gaze on roads and 
houses. 

I found the country as deserted and silent, and far 
more dreary than before. The Prussians have only 
passed through, but they have left their mark every- 
where. It seemed the very picture of an Algerian 
village after a swarm of locusts, a bare, devastated, 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



devoured, and riddled scene ; the houses with doors 
and windows all wide open, even to the little iron 
gates of the kennels and the latticed shutters of the 
rabbit-hutches. I went into some of the houses... 
Our peasants are rather like the Arabs. They are 
seen in the fields, in the 
courtyards, on their thres- 
holds, but they do not 
often admit a Parisian in- 
side their doors. Now I 
could thoroughly search 
into these unknown lives, 
these forsaken homes. 
Their habits still clung to 
them, and could be traced 
in the mantelpieces dark 
with soot, the hanging 
ropes in the courtyards 

where the washing is dried, the now empty nails 
driven into the walls, and on the walnut table, by 
the marks idly cut with a knife, and the notches 
made between each mouthful. All those village 
households were alike I came upon one, however, 
that possessed one luxury more than the others a 




ROBERT IIKLMOXT. 91 

parlour, or at least what was intended for a parlour. 
In a small brick-floored room behind the kitchen, a 



RBBnMMBBBHEE 







green paper had been put up, coloured glass had 
been let into the window, and a pair of gilt fire- 



92 ROBERT HELMONT. 



dogs, a round tea-table, and a large arm-chair 
covered with worn chintz, had been placed in it. 
The ambition of a peasant's lifetime could be felt 
there. Certainly that man had said to himself, 
" When I shall be old, when I shall have slaved 
and laboured hard, I will become a bourgeois. I will 
have a parlour like the mayor, and a comfortable 
arm-chair to sit in." Poor devil ! They have made 
a fine mess of his parlour ! 

I left Champrosay sad at heart. The desolation 
of those abandoned houses had struck and chilled me 
like the cold damp falling from the walls of a cellar. 
Instead of going straight back to the Hermitage, I 
went a long way round by the woods. I felt a craving 
for air and Nature. 

Unluckily all this side of the forest bears an 
aspect of wildness and neglect, which is not very 
inspiriting. Old and now unused quarries have left 
there piles of rocks, and a scattering of pebbles, which 
make the soil both dry and barren. Not a single 
blade of grass is to be seen on the paths. Wild 
stocks, brambles, and ivy alone spring up from out 
of these large gaping holes, clinging by all their roots 
to the uneven edges of the stones, and through the 



ROBERT HELMONT. 93 



bare and interwoven branches, the quarries appear still 
deeper. For a short time we had been winding our 
way among the rocks. Suddenly Colaquet stopped 
short, and his ears began to tremble with fear. What 
is the matter with him? I lean forward and look... 
It is the body of a Prussian soldier that has been 
pitched down head-foremost into the quarry. I must 
confess it gave me a shudder. Had it been on the 
highway or in the plain, this corpse would not have 
horrified me so much. Where there are so many 
soldiers and so many guns, the probability of death 
seems ever present ; but here in this hollow, in this 
out-of-the-way part of the wood, it bore an appear- 
ance of murder and mystery... Looking more atten- 
tively, I thought I recognised my robber of the 
other day, he who was singing so lustily about the 
month of May. Has he been killed by a peasant ? 
But where could the peasant have come from ? 
There is nobody left at Champrosay, Minville, or 
the Meillottes. More probably it is the result of 
some drunken quarrel between comrades, like the 
one I saw from the windows of the Hermitage... 

I went home very quickly ; and all through the 
evening I was haunted by the idea that my only 



94 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



guest, my only companion in the whole of the wide 
dreary forest, was that dead body stretched out on 
the red sand of the quarries. . . 





Unknown date... 

It is raining it is cold. The sky is dark. I go 
to and fro in the Hermitage, tying up faggots and 
making bread, while the cannon thunders incessantly, 
and by a strange phenomenon disturbs the earth 
even more than the air. With my prison labour, 
my selfish and silent life in the midst of such a ter- 
rible drama, I compare myself to an ant, busily grop- 
ing about on the surface of the soil, deaf to the 
sounds of humanity around it, all too great for its 



96 ROBERT HELMONT. 

insignificance, and which surround without troubling 
it. From time to time, to divert my thoughts, I take 
a journey to Champrosay without any fear of meet- 
ing the Prussians, who have decidedly abandoned 
the Corbeil road, and are making their descent on 
Paris by way of Melun and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. 
Once or twice, however, a horse's gallop obliged me 
to take refuge in some shed, and I saw a rapid and 
hurried bearer of despatches riding across the country 
as if merely to unite it to headquarters, to take pos- 
session of the road, and mark it with the hoofs of 
the Prussian horses. 

This deserted village, with its wide-open houses, 
interests and charms me like a sort of Pompeii. I 
wander through and examine it. I amuse myself 
by reconstructing the lives of these absent ones... 





' 



Another day... 

...Something strange is going on around me. I 
am not alone in the forest. There is evidently 
some one hiding near here, and some one who kills. 
To-day, in the washing-pond of Champrosay, I found 
a second corpse. A Saxon was stretched out there, 
only his fair head visible above the water, lying 
on the damp stone ledge. Moreover, he was well 
hidden away, thrust into oblivion in this small pond 
surrounded by brushwood, as securely as that other 



ROBERT HELMONT. 






one over there, in the quarry in the wood. I had by 
chance taken Colaquet to drink there. The sight of 
that long, motionless body startled me. Were it not 
for the pool of blood which stained the stones round 
his head, and mingled with the reflection of the 
purple sunset in the water, it might have been 

supposed that he was 
asleep, so quiet and 
peaceful were his fea- 
tures. I have often 
noticed that expression 
on the face of the dead. 
For the space of a brief 
moment there is some- 
thing about them more 
beautiful than life : a 
solemn peace, a breath- 
less slumber, a renewal 
of youth in the whole 

being, which seems like a pause between the agita- 
tions of life and the surprises of the unknown world 
opening before them. 

While I was contemplating the unfortunate creature, 
night began to close in. In the clear and mellow 
twilight a great softness reigned over everything. 




ROBERT HELMONT. 



99 



The roads, already lighter than the sky, stretched 
out straight and regular. The forest spread out in 




dark masses, and beneath me a small vineyard path 
was faintly lighted up by a ray of moonlight. Over 



100 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



all Nature, reposing after the day's labour on the 
silent fields, the hushed river, the peaceful landscape 
gently fading into night there was the same calm, 
the same grand peace that rested on the face of the 
dead soldier. 








Another day. 

...Between Champrosay and the Meillottes, in the 
middle of a park which skirts the Seine, there stands 
a mansion built in the style of Louis XV. of the 
period of the Marquis d'Etiolles and Madame de 
Pompadour. Two thick straight rows of trees slope 
down to the river, showing, in summer-time, at 
the end of the arch of green foliage, a mirror of blue 
water blended with a blue sky. All the darkness of 
the old avenues seems to escape through these two 
vistas of light. At the entrance near the gates, a 
wide moat surrounding the lawns, a circle of moss- 



IO2 ROBERT HELMONT 

covered lime-trees and curbstones grazed by carriage- 
wheels, all combine to show the antiquity of this 
quiet old place. A fancy took me, and the other 
day I went in there. 

By a winding path I reached the front of the 
steps. The doors were open, the shutters broken. 
On the ground-floor, in the large drawing-rooms, 
where the walls were all covered with white carved 
panels, not a single piece of furniture was left. 
Nothing but straw, and on the facade, between the 
stone carving of the balconies, w r ere fresh marks and 
scratches, showing how the furniture had been thrown 
out through the windows. The billiard-room only 
was untouched. The Prussian officers are like our 
own, they are very fond of playing billiards. Only 
these gentlemen had amused themselves by making 
a target of a large mirror, and with its scratches, its 
chipped fragments, its small round holes looking black 
in the light, the mirror seemed like a frozen lake cut 
and furrowed by sharp skates. Inside, the wind 
rushed through the large windows battered down by 
bayonets and butt-ends of rifles, scattering and sweep- 
ing in the dead leaves on to the floors. Outside, it 
dashed under the green-leafed aisle, rocking a for- 



ROBERT HELMONT. IO3 



gotten boat on the pond, full of broken twigs and 
golden-coloured willow-leaves. 

I walked to the end of the avenues. There, at 
the end of the terrace, is a summer-house of red 
bricks overlooking the river ; it is buried in the trees, 
and the Prussians have probably not seen it. The 
door, however, is ajar. I found a little sitting-room 
inside, hung with a flowery chintz, which seemed 
the continuation of the Virginian jasmine climbing 
through the latticed shutters ; a piano, some scat- 
tered music, a book forgotten on a bamboo stool in 
front of the view over the Seine, and in the mys- 
terious light of the closed shutter?, the elegant and 
refined portrait of a woman looked out of a golden 
frame. Wife or maiden, who can tell ? Dark, tall, 
with an ingenuous look, an enigmatic smile, and eyes 
the colour of thought those Parisian eyes that change 
with each passing emotion. It is the first face I 
have seen for two months, and is so living, so proud, 
so youthful in its seriousness ! The impression this 
picture has caused me is singular... I dreamt of the 
summer afternoons that she had spent there, seeking 
the solitude and freshness of this corner of the park. 
The book, the music, spoke of a refined nature; and 



104 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



there lingered in the twilight of this little nook a 
perfume of the past summer, of the vanished woman, 
and of a tender grace left only in the smile of the 
portrait. 




Who is she ? Where is she ? I have never seen 
her. I shall in all probability never meet her. 
And yet, without knowing wherefore, I feel less 
lonely as I gaze at her. I read the book which 
she was reading, made happy by its being marked. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



105 



And since then, not a day passes without my think- 
ing of her. It seems to me that if I had this por- 




trait here, the Hermitage would be less desolate, but 
to complete the charm of the face, one ought also to 



io6 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



have the climbing jasmine of the summer-house, the 
rushes at the water's edge, and the little wild plants 
of the moat, whose bitter aroma comes back to me 
as I write these lines. 





One evening, on returning home. 

...Found another dead Prussian. This one was 
lying in a ditch by the side of the road. That makes 
the third... And always the same wound, a horrible 
gash at the nape of the neck... It is almost like a 
signature of the same hand. 

But who can it be?... 




November i^th. 

...This is the first time for many a day that I 
can put down a date in my diary, and make out a 
little order in this bewilderment of monotonous days. 
My whole existence is changed. The Hermitage no 
longer seems so silent and sad ; there are now long, 
low conversations by the ash-covered fire with which 
we fill the chimney at night. The Robinson Crusoe 
of the forest of Senart has found his man Friday, and 
under the following circumstances. 



IIO ROBERT HELMONT. 

One evening last week, between eight and nine 
o'clock, while I was roasting a fine hen-pheasant on 
a turnspit of my own invention, I heard the report 
of a gun in the direction of Champrosay. This was 
so unusual that I listened very attentively, ready to 
extinguish my fire and put out the little glimmer 
which might betray me. Almost immediately, hurried 
footsteps sounding heavy on the gravelled road, ap- 
proached the Hermitage, followed by barking of dogs 
and furious galloping. It gave me the idea of a 
hunted man pursued by horsemen and chased by 
furious dogs. Shivering, and seized by the living 
terror I felt drawing near, I half opened my window. 
At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit 
orchard, and ran towards the keeper's house with an 
unerring certainty that struck me. Apparently he 
was well acquainted with the place. He had passed 
so rapidly that I could not distinguish his features ; 
I only saw a peasant's blue smock all gathered up in 
the agitation of a wild flight. He jumped through a 
shattered window into the Guillards' house, and dis- 
appeared in the darkness of the empty dwelling. 
Immediately behind him a large white dog appeared 
at the entrance of the cloister. Thrown out for a 




' At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit orchard. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 113 

minute, he remained there, slowly wagging his tail 
and sniffing, and then stretched himself out at full 
length in front of the old gateway, baying in order 
to call the attention of the pursuers. I knew the 
Prussians often had dogs with them, and I expected 
to see a patrol of Uhlans... Odious animal! with 
what pleasure would I have strangled it, if it had 
been within reach of my grasp. I already saw the 
Hermitage invaded, searched, my retreat discovered ; 
and I felt angry with that unfortunate peasant for 
having sought refuge so near me, as if all the forest 
were not large enough. How selfish fear makes 
us!... 

Fortunately for me, the Prussians were probably 
not very numerous, and the darkness and the unknown 
forest frightened them. I heard them call in their 
dog, who kept up in front of the gate, the continual 
howl and whimpering of an animal on the track. 
However, he at last went off, and the sound of him 
bounding through the brushwood and over the dead 
leaves died out in the distance. The silence that 
followed appalled me. A. man was there, opposite to 
me. Through the round opening of my attic window, 
I tried to peer into the darkness. The keeper's little 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



house was still silent and gloomy, with the black 
apertures of its dreary windows in the white wall. 
I imagined the unhappy man hiding in a corner, 
benumbed with cold and perhaps wounded. Should 
I leave him without help ?. . . I did not hesitate long. . . 
But just at the moment when I was gently opening 




my door, it was violently pushed from the outside, 
and some one burst into the room. 

-Don't be afraid, Mr. Robert. It is I... It is 
Goudeloup... 

It was the farmer of Champrosay, he whom I had 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



seen with the rope round his neck, ready to be swung 
up in his farmyard. I recognised him at once in the 
firelight ; and yet there was something different about 
him. Pale and emaciated, his face hidden by an 
unkempt beard, his sharp glance and tightened lips 
made a very different being of the well-to-do, cheerful 
farmer of former days. With the end of his smock, 
he wiped the blood off his hands. 

You are wounded, Goudeloup ? 

He laughed significantly. 

- No no... I have just been bleeding one 
of them on the road. Only this time I had not a 
fair chance. While I was at work, some others 
came up. Never mind ! He will never get up 
again. 

And he added, with a short, fierce laugh which 
showed his wolfish-looking teeth : 

- That makes the fifteenth that I have laid low 
in two months... I think that is pretty well for one 
man alone, and with no other weapon but this. 

He drew forth from under his smock a pair of prun- 
ing-shears those large kind of scissors that gardeners 
use to cut rose-trees and shrubs. I had a shudder 
of horror at the sight of the assassin's tool, held by 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



that bloody hand ; but I had been so long silent, and 
deprived of all intercourse with human beings, that, 
the first feeling of repulsion overcome, I made the 
unfortunate creature welcome to a place at my table. 
There, in the comfortable atmosphere of the room, by 
the heat of the faggots, at the smell of the pheasant, 
which was becoming brown 
"^^^ Ji before the flame, his wild- 

J^PV^^y beast expression seemed 

to soften. Accustomed to 
the darkness of the long 
nights, he blinked his eyes 
a little while he related his 
history to me in a quiet 
tone. 

- You thought I was 
hanged, Mr. Robert; well, 
You must know that when 
the Uhlans arrived at the farm, I first tried to defend 
myself, but they did not even give me time to fire 
my second gun. No sooner was the first shot fired 
than the gates were forced open, and thirty of these 
robbers threw themselves on to me. They put the 
granary rope round my neck and up I went!... For 




I thought so myself., 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



117 



the space of a moment, giddy at no longer feeling 
the ground under my feet, I saw everything reeling 




around me : the farm, the sheds, the kennels, those 
big red faces which laughed at the sight of me ; and 



Il8 ROBERT HELMONT. 

you also, whom I caught sight of through the gap 
in the wall, looking as white as a ghost. It seemed 
like a nightmare!... Suddenly, while I was strug- 
gling, the idea flashed across my mind, I know not 
why, to make the Freemason's signal of distress. I 
learned that in my youth, when I belonged to the 
lodge of the Grand Orient. Immediately the wretches 
loosened the rope, and I found myself on the ground 
once more. It was their officer a stout man with 
black whiskers who had me taken down only on 
account of my sign. 

" You are a Freemason," said he, in a low 
tone, and in excellent French. "I am also one... 
and I would not refuse to help a brother who 
appealed to me... Be off, and let me see you no 
more ! . . . " 

I left my own home hanging my head like a 
beggar. Only I did not go far, you may believe. 
Hidden among the ruins of the bridge, living on raw 
turnips and sloes, I was present at the pillage of my 
goods ; the emptied granaries, the pulley creaking all 
day long to lower the sacks, the wood burning in the 
open yard in large fires, round which they drank my 
wine, and my furniture and my flocks going off by 



ROBERT HELMONT. IIQ 

degrees in every direction ! And when at last nothing 
remained, after setting fire to the house, they went 
off, driving and whipping my last cow before them. 
That evening, when I had been round my ruins, 
when, thinking of my children, I realised that in my 
whole life long I should never make enough to restore 
my property, even if I killed myself with work, I 
became mad with rage. The very first Prussian I 
met on the road I sprang upon like a wild beast and 
cut his throat with this... 

From that moment I had but one idea to hunt 
down the Prussians. I remained in ambush night 
and day, attacking the stragglers, the marauders, the 
despatch-bearers, the sentinels. All those I kill I 
carry to the quarries or throw into the water. That 
is the tedious part. Otherwise they are as gentle as 
lambs. You can do what you will with them... 
However, the one this evening was more tough than 
the others, and then that fiendish dog gave the alarm. 
And now I must remain quiet for a time, and with 
your permission, Mr. Robert, I will remain a few 
days with you... 

While he was speaking, his countenance resumed 



120 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



the sinister expression and peculiar intensity -that 
these fearful night-watches had imparted to it. 
What a terrible companion I am going to 
have ! . . . 











November 2oM. 

We have just spent a most dreadful week. During 
eight days, the Prussian patrols have unceasingly 
passed backwards and forwards through the forest. 
They skirted the walls of the Hermitage, and even 
entered the enclosure, but the state of the keeper's 
little house, left wide open and abandoned ; the ivy 
and brambles giving such a dilapidated appearance to 
my own, protected us. My companion and myself 
carefully remained inside the whole time, deadening 
our steps across the room, lowering our voices by 

the hearth, and only making a small fire at night. 

i 



122 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



This time, had we been discovered, it meant death, 
and I felt rather annoyed with Goudeloup for having 
made me his accomplice by coming to take refuge 
here. He understood my feelings, and offered several 
times to go and seek another shelter ; but I would 
not consent to this. To show his gratitude for my 
hospitality, he renders me a lot of little services. 
Very obliging, very clever 
in all the practical details 
of life, about which I am 
so ignorant, he has taught 
me to make bread that 
is eatable, real cider, and 
candles. It is a pleasure 

PMMHQ to see him busy all day 

jgtgjjSfi long, restricting his faculty 

: fjM IBr for work and order, which 

he formerly exercised on 

a wider scale in the management of his large farm- 
stead and seventy-five acres of land, and adapting 
himself to the confined space of our only room. 
Gloomy and silent, moreover, and sitting motionless 
for hours in the evening, his head buried in his 
hands, like all inveterate workers with whom over- 
wrought physical life absorbs the moral being, I 




ROBERT HELMONT. 



123 



could not help sometimes smiling when I noticed that, 
notwithstanding the tragical circumstances surround- 




ing us, he kept up his habit of prolonged meals and 
pauses between each mouthful. Such as he is, the 
fellow interests me. He is the true peasant in all 



124 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



his native brutality. His land, his goods, are far 
more precious to him than his country or his family. 
He unconsciously utters the most monstrous senti- 
ments. If he is so bent on revenge, it is only be- 
cause the Prussians have burnt down his farm, and 
the horrors of the invasion only rouse him when he 
thinks of his lost harvest, and his fields left untillecl 
and unsown. 





November 2 2nd. . . 

We had a long conversation to-day. We were in 
the shed seated across a ladder, and, in spite of the 
coldness of the damp air which came to us from the 
forest all laden with the smell of moist wood and 
damp earth, we felt as much pleasure in breathing 
it as two dormice coming forth from their holes. 
Goudeloup was smoking a curiously-shaped pipe he 
has made out of a snail's shell, and he did so with an 
exaggerated appearance of satisfaction and content 
not devoid of mischief. In spite of my longing to 



126 ROBERT HELMONT. 

smoke, I have already several times refused to use 
his tobacco, well knowing how it has been procured, 
and always expecting to see some shreds of the blue 
cloth of which the Prussian uniforms are made. As 
he caught me sniffing the delightful fragrance of 
tobacco, which tantalised me, he said, with that 
cunning smile of the peasant which puckers up their 
eyes, leaving their lips thin and crafty : 
- Well ! come ! you won't smoke ?... 

MYSELF. 

No, thank you. I have already told you I do not 
wish for any of your tobacco. 

GOUDELOUP. 

Because I have taken it out of their pockets ? 
Yet I had every right to do so. They have robbed 
me enough, for me to be able to rob them also, and 
a few handfuls of bad tobacco won't pay for all my 
corn and oats... 

MYSELF. 

With this difference, that these people have given 
you your life, whereas you... 

GOUDELOUP. 
Yes, it is true they have given me my life, but 




THE WATCH. 



ROBERT HELMONT. I2Q 

they have burnt down my farm my poor farm ! I 
built it myself... and my beasts and my harvest, 
fifteen acres of crops! It was all insured against hail, 
fire, and lightning ; but who would have thought that, 
so near Paris, with all the taxes we pay to have good 
soldiers, I ought to have insured myself against the 
Prussians ? Now I have nothing left. Are not such 
catastrophes worse than death?. . . Ah yes, the wretches; 
they gave me my life ! They gave it me to beg from 
door to door with my wife and children. Don't you 
see that when I think of all this, a furious passion 
seizes me, and a thirst for blood, for... 

MYSELF. 
What, you have not killed enough?.-. 

GOUDELOUP. 

No, not enough yet... I must even make a con- 
fession, Mr. Robert. You are an easy-going man ; 
you have received me kindly, and a chimney-corner 
like yours is not to be despised in this weather. 
And yet, all the same, there are moments when I am 
weary of being here. I want to escape, to begin 
lying in wait by the roadside again. It is such fun 
waiting for one of those thieves to pass ; to watch for 



130 ROBERT HELMONT. 



him, dog his footsteps, and say to oneself, " Not 
yet... " and then, quick, you jump on him and finish 
him... Another one who will not eat up my corn ! 

MYSELF. 

You, whom I have known so quiet and gentle, how 
can you talk like that without showing the least 
feeling ? 

GOUDELOUP. 

One would think there was an evil spirit within 
me that the war has called forth... But I must 
say that the first time it happened, I was startled 
myself. It was that transport soldier I met the 
evening of my misfortune. I struck with all my 
might at the uniform, hardly realising there was a 
man inside it ; then, when I felt that huge form give 
way and the warm stream of blood inundate me, then 
I was afraid. But remembering directly the torn and 
ripped-up sacks of flour lying in my yard, I again 
became desperate. 

MYSELF. 

As you bear them such a grudge, why do you not 
try to get back into Paris, or to rejoin the armies in 
the provinces ? You could then fight openly, and kill 
the Prussians without treachery in the battles. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



GOUDELOUP. 

Join the army, Mr. Robert ? . . . But I am not a 
soldier ! My parents paid dearly enough to prevent 




my being one... I am a peasant, an unhappy 
peasant, who revenges himself, and requires no one 
to help him. 



132 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



While he spoke I saw reappear in him the wild 
beast I had admitted the other evening. The mad 
glare seemed to return to his eyes. His lips 
were compressed. His fingers convulsively sought 
a weapon... 





i5 



November 2%th. 

He is gone. I ought not to be astonished. The 
wretch was tired of having nothing to kill. After 
promising to come sometimes at night and knock 
at my door, he plunged into the shadows, less black 
than himself. Well, brutal as he was, I regret him. 
Solitude brings with it, after a time, a feeling of 
torpor, a numbness of the whole being, which is really 
unwholesome. Words seem to start fresh thoughts. 
By dint of talking to this peasant of patriotism and 
self-sacrifice, I have re-awakened in myself all that I 



134 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



was desirous of inspiring in him. I feel quite diffe- 
rently now. And then my recovery, the sensation 
of returning strength, which increases from day to 
day,.. I long for action and battle... 





November y>th, December \st and "2nd. 

It is bitterly cold. Through the dryness of the 
earth and atmosphere the cannonading round Paris 
re-echoes still louder. I have never heard anything 
to equal it. It must be a real battle. At moments 
I fancy the sounds draw nearer, for I can make out 
the platoon-firing and the horrible rending noise of 
the mitrailleuse. All around here there seems a 
general commotion, as it were the rebounding sound 



136 ROBERT HELMONT. 

of the battle. On the road to Melun troops are 
continually moving. On the road to Corbeil scared 
despatch-bearers gallop by furiously.. What can be 
taking place?... In spite of the cold, I go and wander 
about, seeking the forest paths, where the cannonad- 
ing is more distinctly heard... 

At times I have a dream of Paris leaving its im- 
prisoning ramparts, of the French troops arriving 
here, of the forest of Senart full of French uniforms, 
and of I myself joining their ranks to drive out the 
Prussians and reconquer France... 





December %th. 

The incessant cannonading of the last few days 
has been succeeded by a deathlike stillness. What 
is going on ? I am fearfully anxious. If Paris had 
sallied forth from her walls and were now marching 
on the roads, the disbanded and repulsed Prussians 
would fill the country and constantly change their 
bivouacs. But no. Ever since yesterday I have 
scoured the twelve miles of forest which hem me in 
like a wall on all sides ; in vain I scrutinise the lanes 
around, they are as silent and lonely as usual. 
Through the trees, in the distance, I saw near Mont- 
geron a company of Bavarians drilling in the open 
part of a wide plain. Mournfully drawn up in line 
under the lowering and lurid sky, they trod with 



138 ROBERT HELMONT. 

resigned melancholy through the mud of this uncul- 
tivated and barren land... Evidently Paris has not 
yet made a successful sortie, but it has not capitu- 
lated either, for these soldiers presented too pitiful 
an appearance to be conquerors. 

Overhead, circling clouds of rooks fly by towards 
the great city, cawing and alighting on the rising 
ground. Never had I seen so many, even in the 
peaceful winter, when all France is sown with wheat. 
This year it is another kind of seed which attracts 
them. 





' It was a balloon.' 




Deceinber 6th. 

Thank Heaven ! Paris still holds out, and is likely 
to do so. I had a delightful proof of this. This 
morning I was by the cloister well when I heard 
quick firing in the direction of Draveil. Almost 
immediately a peculiar sound, like the flapping of a 
sail at sea and the straining of the stretched rigging, 
passed through the air above me. It was a balloon, 
a fine yellow balloon, very apparent against the dark- 
ness of the clouds. From where I stood it seemed 
to float over the tree-tops, although in reality it was 
far above. I cannot describe how the slender tex- 



142 ROBERT HELMONT. 

ture of this silken balloon, whose netting I could 
distinctly see, stirred and filled me with enthusiasm. 
I remembered that above all this conquered France, 
the soul of Paris still soared, a living strength 
more powerful than all the Krupp cannons together, 
and I, a Parisian, felt proud of it. I felt inclined 
to cry, to shout, to call out. I threw my arms out 
towards the black, motionless specks at the edge of 
the car, two human lives, tossed about by all the 
currents of heaven, far above the rivers that may 
drown them, the precipices where they may be dashed 
to pieces, and the Prussian armies, which must look 
from that height like immense overrunning ant-heaps 
on the surface of the earth... A light powdery line 
became visible under the balloon. I heard the sound 
of scattered sand among the branches, and the vision 
was lost among the clouds. 




December gth. 

What am I doing here ? I am really becoming 
ashamed of my useless life... I had to bake some 
bread to-day, and could not summon up courage to 
do it. All the little details in which I used to take 
pleasure, like those egotists in disguise recluses and 
hermits I now find despicable. I am completely 
cured, only an occasional pain on very cold days. 
My duty is on the ramparts with the others... But 
how can I manage to rejoin them ? It appears that the 
investment is very close, and the sentinels are placed 



144 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



within rifle-shot of each other. If I had only a com- 
panion, some countryman who knows the roads well. 
My thoughts fly to Goudeloup. I ought not to have 
allowed him to leave me. Who knows where he 
may be now ? Perhaps strung up to some roadside 
cross, or dead from cold at the bottom of a quarry. 
However, the other evening, towards the Meillottes, 
I heard a cry nothing but a cry, but a terrible cry, 
long and despairing, like a wail ; and it flashed across 
me, " Goudeloup is there ! "... Ah, yes ! that man is 
a murderer ; but at any rate he acts ; he satisfies 
brutally the thirst for vengeance and justice which 
is in him. As for me, I warm myself and sleep. 
Which of us two is the most contemptible ? 





December \oth. 

Returned to Champrosay in bitter cold weather. 
The houses along the roadside, with all their dark, 
empty windows, looked like sad and blind beggars. 
I visited again the park, the summer-house at the 
waterside, and the smiling portrait which inhabits 
it. The cold air had not dimmed the peaceful face, 
nor the soft shades of the summer dress. Only the 
glance seemed to me more stern and severe, as if 
it contained a reproach. On the very threshold I 
understood I was no longer welcome. Cautiously I 



146 



ROBERT II ELM ON T. 



closed the door again, and went down the frozen, 
moss-covered steps... And all through the night the 
clear gaze of that fair Parisian remorselessly haunted 











1 1 found a pigeon." 




December nth. 

This morning, on going to take up the snares at 
the end of my garden, I found a pigeon. It asto- 
nished me. Tame pigeons do not remain on deserted 
roofs, and till now I had only caught wood-pigeons. 
This one was really a tame pigeon, plump, with pink 
claws and back, and brown and white wings. The 
wire had not maimed it ; it was merely numbed with 
cold. 1 brought it in to the fire, and there, as I held 
it in both hands for, like a tame creature, it made 
not the slightest struggle I discovered some printed 
numbers on one of its wings, 523, and lower down, 
Societe de f Esperance. Then under the feathers I found 



ISO ROBERT HELMONT. 



a quill rather thicker than the others, and rolled up, 
fastened to it, a tiny sheet of very thin paper. I 
had caught a carrier-pigeon ! Did it come from 
Paris or the provinces ? Was it the messenger of 
victory or defeat, good or bad news?... For a long 
time I gazed at it with almost superstitious awe. 
Let loose in the room, he quietly went about pecking 
between the tiles. By degrees his feathers puffed 
out in the warmth and his strength returned. Then 
I opened the window wide, and placed him on the 
sill. He remained there a moment looking up at 
the sky, stretching out his neck, trying to find his 
bearings. At last he rose straight into the air, and 
having reached a certain height, white against the 
surrounding gloom, he sharply turned towards Paris. 
Ah! if I could only take the same road... 





December \yh. 

It is all settled. We leave to-morrow. I say 
"we," because Goudeloup has returned. He came 
back yesterday in the dusk, more emaciated, more 
terrible than before. The wretched man is now at 
his twenty-first I.., Nevertheless the thirst for blood 
is beginning to be satiated ; moreover, he is closely 
pursued, and the nightly ambush has become most 
difficult. I therefore had little trouble in deciding 
him to attempt an expedition to Paris with me. We 
shall start to-morrow in my boat, which is lying out 



152 ROBERT HELMONT. 



on the Seine, moored under the willows on the banks. 
It is Goudeloup's idea. He thinks that on a very 
dark night we shall be able to get by to the Port-a- 
r Anglais, and then, by creeping along the towing- 
path, reach the first French barricade. We shall 
see... I have prepared my revolver, some rugs, two 
or three loaves, and a large flask of brandy. 

The enterprise is certainly full of danger ; but 
since I have made up my mind to attempt it, I feel 
calmer. Instead of making me anxious, the sound 
of the cannon round Paris electrifies me. I feel as 
if it were calling me ; and each time it thunders, I 
am inclined to answer, " We are coming." I fancy 
the portrait in the summer-house smiles at me from 
its gilt frame, and wears again its calm and placid 
aspect... I have but one regret in quitting the 
Hermitage : what will become of my poor Colaquet ? 
I leave the stable-door open for him to seek his 
subsistence in the forest. I pile up near him my 
last bundles of straw, and while I make these pre- 
parations I avoid meeting his astonished, kind eyes, 
which seem to say reproachfully, "Where are you 
going ? " 

...And now, on my table, opened at this un- 



ROBERT II ELMO NT. 



153 



finished page, I abandon my diary with these last 
words, which will probably end it : We are off to 
Paris ! 





Written groping in the dark. 

I have returned... Goudeloup is dead... Our 
journey has failed. 



December 26///. 

Ten days ! I have only been absent ten days. It 
seems to me that the multitude of scenes and 
shadows, the confused and terrible sensations I have 
brought back from my short journey, are enough 
to fill several existences. Now that I have returned 
to the confined space of my Hermitage, all these 



1 5 6 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



memories haunt and torment me, I must try and 
write them down merely to rid myself of them. 

We started on the night of the sixteenth. A 
very cold night, without stars, lighted up only by 
a white sprinkling of hoar-frost. The frosted trees 




looked like hawthorn bushes flowering before their 
leaves break forth. We passed through Champrosay, 
as dismal and silent as the hoar-frost which was 
falling and lying on its cold roofs, instead of gently 
melting round the water-spouts by the warmth of 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



157 



the lighted fires. Not a Prussian was to be seen 
on the horizon, and this was fortunate, as our two 
outlines stood out distinctly in the great bare plain. 
I found my boat in a little creek hidden between 




the banks. It was a very lightly-built Norwegian 
boat. Having wrapped some rags round the oars, 
we pushed off noiselessly on the lonely river, knock- 
ing now and then against the icicles which float on 



15$ ROBERT HELMONT. 

the surface of the water like blocks of crystal. 
a time, in preceding years, I had embarked on 
nights as dark and cold to set or visit my night- 
lines. But what life there was on the river around 
me ! A somewhat mysterious, dreamy sort of life, 
full of the silence of universal slumber. Long wood 
rafts, with their fires lighted fore and aft, and 
shadows standing near the helm, slowly go down 
towards Paris, gliding by through all the forest 
shade, and entering Bercy at break of day, in the 
full glare of a noisy and crowded thoroughfare. 
On the banks, waggons passed along, the night 
express train gliding along through the windings 
of the railway track, like a serpent with eyes of 
fire. And I pondered over all the sad or joyful 
motives that set all these people in motion... At 
intervals, by the side of the river, which nearly 
bathed their walls, the lock-keeper's house, the 
ferrymen's hut, the boatmen's public-houses, threw 
the glimmer from their dimmed windows over the 
still water. 

To-day there is nothing of all this. We have 
a new river before us, black and solitary, disturbed 
by all those broken bridges, which change the 
currents. However, by a few strokes of the oar 




We crossed a heavy punt.' 



ROBERT HELM ON T. l6l 



I was able to direct our little bark, and keep it 
near enough to the middle of the stream to avoid 
the submerged islands marked out by the dipping 
willows... 

- All goes well... said Goudeloup in a low 
voice. 

At that moment the noise of an oar thrown into 
a boat, came from the bank, and a powerful southern 
voice called through the night : 

Come, ferryman, make haste !... 
It is the Draveil doctor, whispered my com- 
panion. 

I too had recognised the kindly voice, that is 
heard day and night on highroads and byeways, 
always encouraging and always hurried. How did 
he come there ? Had he therefore stayed at Dra- 
veil?... I should have liked to have called out to 
him : " Good-night, Doctor ! " But a moment's re- 
flection stopped me. A lucky thought, in truth ; 
for directly after we crossed a heavy punt, with a 
lantern in the bow, passing over from one side of 
the river to the other ; and I saw by the side of 
dear Doctor R in his old felt hat, weather- 
beaten by all the storms of Seine and Oise, some 
shining helmets. 



162 



ROBERT HELM ON T. 



By rare good fortune we were beyond the rays 
of their lantern, which deepened the shadow through 
which our boat was gliding, and we passed by 




unseen. No less danger awaited us a little farther 
on the railway bridge, of which three arches were 
blown up, blocking the river with its gigantic 
remains. I really hardly know how we were able 



164 ROBERT HELMONT. 

to get through this fearful barrier in the dark, 
without being swamped or dashed to pieces. At 
Port-Courcelles we had the same fear. The enor- 
mous gnarled willows of the two islets became in 
the night so many shoals, that we narrowly escaped. 
At last we reach Ablon and its lock. Here the 
cannon round Paris resounds clear and terrible, 
sending forth at each instant the red flash of its 
thunder... We ought to have expected it: the lock 
is closed. Fortunately our boat is light, and to- 
gether we shall be able, as I have so often done, 
to hoist it on to the bank, and carry it over 
to the other side of the barrier. We land at the 
little steps where the innkeeper of Ablon skins 
his eels on summer days, and where the fisher- 
men sit patiently with their rods, bathed in sun- 
shine from the top of their boating-hats down to 
their shoes of untanned leather. It is astonishing 
how a feeling of danger changes the whole aspect 
of things!... When nearly at the top of the steps, 
I perceived against the darkness, ten paces from 
me, a sentry on his beat, pacing up and down the 
quay. Lower down, the lock-keeper's house, turned 
into a Prussian outpost, has all its windows lighted 
up. I wish to go down quickly, re-embark, and 



ROBERT HELMONT. 165 

gain the other bank ; but Goudeloup will not listen 
to me. His eyes remain obstinately fixed on that 
shadow which looms through the fog, and whistles 
while trampling above us. I try to drag him 
away. He escapes, makes one bound... I hear a 
dull sound, a smothered cry, the rattle of arms, 
and the heavy fall of a man. 

Twenty-two !... says Goudeloup, slipping, quite 
out of breath, down the slope. 

But the unfortunate soldier, that he has left 
stretched out by the river-side, has found strength 
before dying to fire his gun. The sharp report 
rouses both banks of the river. Impossible to land. 
We quickly push out into the middle of the stream, 
and row hard up the river. It is all like a bad 
dream. The wind and current, everything is against 
us. A boat pushes off from the lock, coming straight 
at us, lighted by a torch which dips up and down 
as it watches for us, while another boat approaches 
us in a contrary direction. 

To the dredger... whispers Goudeloup in my 
ear. 

Near us, moored some fifty or sixty feet from the 
shore, a dredging-boat reared its black mass above 
the water, with its barrels and bucket-chain to clear 



1 66 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



away the sand. The Seine was very high, and the 
water half covered it, dashing against its bows 




....- 



with vehemence. We board her, but in our haste 
to take refuge on this wreck we forget to fasten our 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



I6 7 



boat, which floats off with the rugs and provision 
it contains. This saves us. Five minutes later a 
formidable " hurrah " tells us the Prussians have just 
found our boat. Seeing it empty, they must have 




thought we were drowned, engulfed ; for a few mo- 
ments after, the torches returned to the shore, and 
the whole river resumed its silence and darkness... 
The dredger on which we found ourselves was a 



168 ROBERT HELMONT. 

complete wreck a curious shelter, crackling and 
creaking all over, and furiously lashed by the waters. 
On the deck, covered with splinters of wood and pieces 
of cast iron, the cold was intolerable. We were 
obliged to take refuge in the engine-room, to which 
the water happily had not yet penetrated. It would 
soon, however, reach it, for in several places the sides 
of the room were cracked almost down to the level 
of the waves, and we found ourselves lighted by the 
leaden reflection of the darkness on the water. What 
gloomy hours we spent there ! Hunger, fear, and 
the terrible cold numbing our limbs with a feeling 
of drowsiness against which we were obliged to 
struggle... All around, the water seethed, the wood 
groaned, the bucket-chain creaked in its rustiness, 
and aloft, above our heads, something like the rag of 
a drenched flag flapped in the wind. We impatiently 
waited for daybreak, not knowing exactly what dis- 
tance separated us from the land, nor how we should 
be able to reach it. In our fitful slumbers, broken 
as they were by anxious thoughts of escape, the 
shaking of the dredging-boat and the sound of the 
water surrounding us, gave me at times the impression 
of a long voyage and a stormy night at sea... 

When through the holes in the room, which were 



ROBERT IIELMONT. 169 

blackened and torn as if by a bombardment, we saw 
the river catch the first light of a sullen winter's 
morning, we tried to make out our position. The 
slopes of Juvisy commanded the farther bank, rising 
above the fog, which its tall trees pierced with their 
bare tops. On the opposite shore, eighty or a hun- 
dred feet beyond the dredger, lay the flat, bare plains 
of Draveil, stretching away into the far distance, 
without trace of a soldier on them. Evidently that 
was the side we could escape by. The anticipation 
of a cold bath, in the month of December, in that 
deep, foaming, and swift-running water, was rather 
terrifying. However, the iron chain that moored the 
dredger to the bank was happily still fastened to its 
ring, and we had the resource left of clinging to it 
and being guided by it. While we were discussing 
this, a cannon was fired off rather close at hand, from 
the heights of Juvisy, followed up immediately by 
the whistle of a shell and its splash in the water near 
us. A few seconds later, before we had recovered 
from our astonishment, a second shell fell near the 
dredger. Then I understood the flag, the splinters 
of wood, the pieces of cast iron, and the smell of 
burnt powder we had noticed in the cabin. The 
Prussians were using the old dredger as a target for 

M 



1 70 ROBERT HELM ON T. 



their cannons. It was absolutely necessary to quit 
at once. The cold and the dangers of the river sank 
into insignificance. Forward we must go. I seized 
hold of the chain with both hands and lowered my- 
self rapidly into the river, Goudeloup following me. 
Our fingers were skinned by the chafing iron : we 
advanced but slowly, numbed by the current and 
the icy water. A fresh cannon-shot redoubles our 
energy. Look out ! Here comes the shell. This 
time it falls full on the iron-plated front of the 
dredger, bursts, and covers us with the wreckage. 
I hear behind me a deep sigh... No, never shall 
I forget the last agonising motion of that chain, 
which I felt move, struggle for a second, and then 
rise up quickly in the water, loose, free, and light in 
my hands... 

I turned round ; no one to be seen. Nothing but 
a mass of blood floating away on the stream. The 
unfortunate fellow must have been struck on the 
head and killed on the spot... A feeling of intense 
despair overcame me. My companion slaughtered 
beside me, and I helpless to succour him... A little 
more and I too must have let go the chain ; but the 
instinct of life won the day, and a few minutes later 
I landed on the bank, but to get no farther. After 




I seized hold of the chain with both hands and lowered myseli 
Into the river." Page 170. 



ROBERT HELMONT. 173 



a dozen steps, overcome by the anxiety, fatigue, and 
terrible cold which penetrated through all my wet 
clothes, I dropped down by the roadside on the dry 
grass of a ditch. The well-known trot of a horse, 
the roll of an old cabriolet, and the kind voice of 
Doctor R drew me from my lethargy. 

- What! it is you?... What are you doing 
there ? 

Quick as lightning, he wrapped me up in his cloak, 
hid me in the straw under the apron of the carriage, 
and set off in the direction of Draveil, where the 
excellent man has turned his house into a hospital. 
From the cabriolet I passed into the coach-house. 
There, dry clothes and a few glasses of hot grog 
soon revived me. I remained there till nightfall, 
without daring to move, understanding very well, 
although the Doctor had never told me, the risk he 
was incurring by receiving me. The house was full 
of soldiers and hospital attendants. Military boots 
resounded on the pavement of the small courtyard. 
And all around, the loud laughter, the swords 
clashing, and the harsh German speech, still more 
accentuated by its insolent tone. I heard all this 
with my eyes shut, stupified by the sensation of 
comfort, with a vague recollection of past danger and 



174 ROBERT HELMONT. 



of the cold river, and poor Goudeloup's heart-rending 
groan ringing in my ears. 

At night the Doctor came to set me free, and took 
me to the room generally occupied by his grand- 
children, whom he had sent away on the approach 
of the Prussians. It was there that I awoke the 
next morning. After the horrible scenes of the 
previous day, those three little cribs, with white 
muslin curtains round them, the children's toys lying 
scattered on the floor with their lesson-books, even 
the faint medicinal smell that came from a cupboard 
in which the Doctor kept some drugs, everything 
calmed and soothed my over-excited nerves. In a 
neighbouring yard a cock crowed and a donkey 
began braying. The village seemed to awaken. 
Suddenly a bugle-call, rudely jarring on these peace- 
ful sounds, recalled the sad reality. Then there was 
coming and going to and fro; doors banged... I 
drew near the window. The Doctor's house looked 
into the street, over the flower-beds of a narrow strip 
of garden in frcnt of it. Every one knew his house, 
with its round brass bell-knob standing out brightly 
on the freshly white- washed wall ; and the furniture 
in the little parlour, which could be seen on the 
ground-floor, gave it an appearance of homely com- 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



175 



fort. Hidden behind the closed blinds, I saw the 
street full of men in forage-caps falling into line, 
calling, numbering each other, ready to start. Among 
the caps, several Bavarian helmets appeared. These 
were quartermasters running from house to house, 




chalking down the numbers on the doors, preparing 
quarters for the advancing forces. Soon the depart- 
ing regiment moved off to the sound of their drums, 
while opposite, at the entrance to the village, the 
Bavarian buglers noisily entered. During the last 
three months the unhappy village had been in this 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



condition. The straw of the encampments had not 
time to grow cold between the departure of one 
regiment and the arrival of another... 

The Doctor, who just then came into the room, 
made me leave the window. 

- Take care, Mr. Robert ; do not show yourself. 
There is at the Commcindatur a list of the inhabitants 
who have remained in the country, and we are all 
closely watched. After eight o'clock in the evening, 
nobody except myself is allowed to go outside their 
house... So many Prussians have been murdered 
in the neighbourhood ! Draveil pays the penalty. 
Their requisitions are three times heavier here than 
elsewhere. The least word, and they imprison ; the 
slightest show of rebellion, and they shoot. Our 
unhappy peasants are terrified. They spy and in- 
form about each other ; and if one of them perceived 
that I was hiding some one in my house, he would 
be capable to spare himself a requisition of warn- 
ing the Commandatur. What would be the fate of 
both of us, I can easily imagine... 

He was so afraid of any imprudence on my part, 
poor dear Doctor, that all the time I stayed in his 
house he kept the key of my room in his pocket. 
The latticed shutters and closed windows threw a 



ROBERT HELMONT. 177 



prison gloom over my room, that only gave me light 
enough to read by. I had medical works, a few odd 
volumes translated from the Panckoucke series, and 
from time to time a copy of a French paper published 
by the Prussians at Versailles. That also was 
written in a foreign kind of French, and our real 
or imaginary defeats were sneeringly described with 
coarse and stupid jokes. 

When I could no longer read, I looked out through 
the blinds into the street the real old-fashioned 
street of a country town. Straight rows of houses 
with little gardens and a pavement in front, the 
spaces between them filled with a trellis-work of 
branches, or the trunk of a great elm, and a back- 
ground of plain and vineyard scarcely hidden by 
the low roofs. Then sheds and stables, a fountain 
spouting out of an old wall, the large gateway of a 
farm, side by side with the notary's white and clean 
little house, ornamented with escutcheons. And 
over all the cruel blight of the invasion. Knitted 
jerseys drying on the iron gates and on the shutters. 
Large pipes protruding from every window, and 
military boots. Never had I heard the sound of 
so many boots... Opposite my window was the 
Commandatur. Every day peasants were brought 



1/8 ROBERT HELMONT. 

in, urged along by butt-ends of rifles or the scab- 
bards of swords. The women and children followed 
weeping, and while the man was dragged inside, 
they remained at the door explaining their case to 
the soldiers, who, with closed lips, listened disdain- 
fully or else laughed with a stupid brutal laughter. 
No hope of pity or justice. All depended on the 
caprice of the conqueror. They were so well aware 
of it, these unfortunate peasants, that they hardly 
dared stir out or show themselves, and when they 
did venture into the street, it was heart-rending to 
see them creeping under the walls, glancing out of 
the corner of their eyes, bowed down, obsequious 
and servile, like Eastern Jews. 

It was a cruel sight to see the ambulances stop 
at our door in the wind, cold, rain, and snow ; to 
hear the groans of the sick and wounded being 
removed from the carts and borne in helpless. 
When evening came, to end the long melancholy 
days, the Prussian bugles sounded the retreat under 
the leafless elm trees, with its slowly marked time, 
and its last three notes thrown out like the weird 
screech of a night-bird at the approach of night. 
This was the moment when the Doctor, muddy and 
tired, entered my room. He himself brought my 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



1/9 



food, and, with his usual good nature, told me all 
he had done about his visits, the hearsays from 




Paris and from the provinces, about the sick people 
brought to him, and his disputes with the Prussian 



180 ROBERT HELMONT. 



major, who was his colleague in command of the 
hospital, and whose German pedantry annoyed and 
exasperated him. We talked in sad low tones, and 
then the kind man bade me good-night. Once more 
alone, I softly opened my window to breathe the 
fresh air for a few minutes. In spite of the bitter 
cold, it did me good. In its peaceful slumbers 
the country seemed to return to its former condition 
and resumed the aspect of its happier days. But 
soon the step of a patrol, the groan of a wounded 
man, the sound of the cannon thundering on the 
horizon, brought me back to the reality, and I 
retired into my prison, full of hatred and anger. 
At the end of a short time this cellular kind of 
existence in the midst of the army of occupation 
became intolerable. Having lost all hope of entering 
Paris, I regretted my Hermitage. There, at least, 
I had solitude and Nature. I was not tempted 
there, as I was here, to interfere in the injustices, 
brutalities, and constant vexations going on in 
the street, thereby running the risk of compro- 
mising my kind host. Therefore I resolved upon 
leaving. 

To my great surprise, the Doctor did not even 
try to dissuade me from my project. 



ROBERT IIELMONT. iSl 

- You are quite right, he said quietly ; you will 
be safer over there. 

Since, on reflection, I have always fancied that 
some neighbour may have seen me behind the lattice, 
and that my host, although he would not admit it, 
feared they would betray me. We therefore decided 
that I should leave Draveil the next day, in the 
same manner in which I arrived. When it was 
quite dark, I went down into the stable. I hid 
myself in the straw of the cabriolet, the Doctor's 
cloak was thrown over me, and we started off. The 
journey was accomplished without accident. Every 
hundred and fifty or two hundred yards was a sentry- 
box erected by the roadside at the expense of the 
district. 

Wer da ? challenged the sentry, cocking his 
rifle. 

The Doctor answered : 

Lazaret h ! 

And the little gig continued its jingling rattle over 
the stones. At the edge of the forest he stopped. 
The road was clear. I hastily jumped out. 

- Take this, said the kind man, holding out a 
basket full of food and bottles... Shut yourself up, 



182 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



and do not stir out... I will come and see you 
soon. 

Thereupon he whipped up his horse, and I threw 
myself into the thicket. A quarter of an hour later, 
I was at the Hermitage. 





January yd. 

...A fine drifting snow has been falling for the 
last few days. The forest is completely covered. 
Around me the silence was so deep that I could even 
hear the fall of the thickening flakes. It is impos- 
sible to go out. I watch the snow falling from the 
murky sky and whitening all things. The famished 
birds come to my very doorstep. The roedeer have 
taken refuge in the stable in place of my poor Cola- 
quet, of whom I have heard nothing... 




" They blew out his bni 




January iot/1. 

...The Doctor came to see me. Bad news : Paris 
still shut up, disasters in the provinces ! The con- 
querors, worn out by such a tardy victory, redouble 
the humiliations and brutalities... At Draveil, on 
Christmas night, five or six Bavarians, after sitting 
up late drinking with old Rabot, the forester, in a 
public-house, blew out his brains with a revolver. 
The unhappy man's brother, who lived opposite, ran 
in on hearing the report of the shot, and in his turn 
fell mortally wounded. Another man of the same 



188 



ROBERT IIELMONT. 



family was seriously wounded. The wretches would 
have massacred all comers ! The affair created a 
great sensation : a fictitious inquiry was made, and 
concluded by the district of Draveil being con- 
demned to pay an indemnity of sixteen hundred 
pounds to the Bavarians ! . . . 





January \^th. 

...This morning the Prince of Saxony's staff had 
a large shooting-party in the forest. On hearing 
the firing so near me, I was seized with a terrible 
anxiety. I thought it was the arrival of some French 
advanced-guard ; but from the windows of the studio 
overlooking the woods, I saw between the leafless 
branches, crowds of beaters wearing the Saxon forage- 
caps running and shouting through the thickets, while 



I9O ROBERT HELMONT. 

plumed and gilded sportsmen watched at every turn 
of the drives. In the circle round the Great Oak an 
enormous bivouac-fire blazed in front of a tent. Here, 
called by a flourish of trumpets, the shooters came to 
breakfast. I heard the clinking of glasses, the un- 
corking of bottles, and the cheering of the revellers. 
Then the slaughter of deer and pheasants recom- 
menced. Ah! if old Guillard had been there! he who 
kept such an account of his game, watched over his 
coveys and his rabbit-holes, knew the favourite haunts 
of the deer. How he would have grieved to see this 
sacrilege ! The bewildered birds knew not where 
to seek safety from the cruel guns. The startled 
hares and rabbits ran under the legs of the sports- 
men, and in the midst of all the confusion a wounded 
deer took refuge in the courtyard of the Hermitage. 
The eyes of hunted animals have a look of piteous 
astonishment which is truly heart-rending. This one 
excited my compassion, pressing against the low wall 
round the well, sniffing the air, and pawing the 
ground with its little bleeding feet. My indignation 
redoubled against the plundering race that swarmed 
over vanquished France with the voracity of locusts, 
destroying its vineyards, its houses, its cornfields, 
its forests, and, when the country was laid bare, 




I heard the clinking of glasses, the uncorking of bottles.' 



ROBERT HELMONT. 



193 



exterminating even the game, leaving nothing 
alive. 

I shall never forget that day's sport in the midst 
of the war, under that dark, lowering sky, with the 
landscape whitened with hoar-frost, and the glitter 
of the gold on the helmets and the hunting-horns 
passing beneath the branches ; while the galloping of 
the horses, the who-hoops of the men, reminded me 
of the Black Huntsman in the German ballads. At 
dusk, lines of carts came to gather up from the edge 
of the roads all the wounded and dying game. It 
was like the evening after a battle. 





January \gth. 

...They have fought all day under the walls of 
Paris. But the noise of the mitrailleuses was not 
so distinct as on the 2nd of December. There was 
something in the sound of that distant battle which 
gave me the impression of lassitude and discourage- 
ment. 



January ^oth. 

... All is over. Paris has capitulated. The 
armistice is signed. 




LAST LEAFLETS. 

I end here my diary, in which I have tried to 
give the experiences of my five months of solitude. 
To-day I returned to Draveil in the Doctor's carriage, 
but without hiding this time. The roads were full 
of peasants returning home. Many are already at 
work again on the land. All faces are sad, but no 
complaints are heard. Is it fatalism or resignation ? 

The Prussians still occupy the village, enforcing 
their triumph with cool insolence. They, however, 
appear less brutal with the inhabitants. I saw some 
walking about hand-in-hand with little children. It 
was like the beginning of a return to their forsaken 
hearths, to their sedentary lives, so long disturbed by 



1 98 ROBERT II ELMO NT. 



this war... When I came home in the evening, I saw 
on the doorstep of the keeper's house, old Guillard's 
widow, dressed in deep mourning and hardly recog- 
nisable. Poor woman ! her husband dead and her 
home a wreck. Her misfortunes are complete. I 
heard her weeping as she tried to put in order the 
remains of her household goods. 

Silence reigns at the Hermitage. It is a clear 
night and the air is balmy. Already the presence of 
spring is beginning to be felt under the fast melting 
snow. The forest will soon bud forth, and I shall 
watch to see the grass blades pushing aside the dead 
leaves. From the distant quiet plains rises a misty 
vapour like the smoke of an inhabited village ; and if 
anything can impart consolation after a cruel war, it 
is this repose of all Nature and mankind, this universal 
calm which rests upon a shattered country a country 
recruiting its strength by sleep, forgetful of the lost 
harvest in preparing for that of the future ! 





Forgetful of the lost harvest in preparing for that of the 
future." Pa< r e 108. 



Printed by EALLANTYNE, HANSON & Co, 
Edinburgh and Loiidjn 



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